A recent exhibition of drawings by David Smith consisted entirely of female nudes. A reviewer for The New York Times, after rightly noting that this theme is not generally associated with Smith, went on to explain that the nude is nevertheless a major focus of Western art, and so is likely to appear in any artist’s work. So, too, the man in the street, when he happens to think about artists and imagine himself being one, is not wrong to dream at once that he is drawing naked women. Besides the basic element of sensual pleasure, a factor of envious respect for the skilled craftsman who is so privileged is involved.

Yet in the history of Western painting, the female nude was not usual until Titian (1487-1576) made it so. Earlier it was a rare and special case, eccentric in an artist’s production. Today Botticelli is best known for the Birth of Venus; but it is almost...

 

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