The destruction of nude images

Guillaume Deprez
The Startup
Published in
9 min readOct 7, 2019

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A history of the creation & destruction of nude artworks, including social media censorship

The iconic Venus of Willendorf, at about 30,000 years old, one of the oldest and most important artworks in the world, displayed in Vienna’s Natural History Museum and in history books, yet censored on social media.

The first images of humans, created about 35,000 years ago, were carved in the nude. We may be unable to understand why they were made, but the exaggerated features of the female body imply the statuettes are thought to have been used as “fertility goddesses”, meant to help natality, still in use in parts of the world today. From the very inception of art, the nude was one of the defining aspects of mankind’s creativity.

With the first civilisations, Egypt and Mesopotamia, the nude was rare, until the Greeks innovated with statues of nude athletes and gods.

The Greek and Roman nude

But how did the ancient Greeks depict the human body, since it was good enough for both mortals and immortals? By creating an ideal figure, not only perfect in its flesh, but its mind. Beautiful outside and virtuous inside, a balance between body and mind that the Romans would later call, as we still do, a healthy soul in a healthy body.
Athletic and intellectual achievements were related, in the gymnasium -the very word comes from ‘nude’- there were libraries for exercising both mind and body. Being in the nude was like putting on a costume, becoming a hero returning from battle or labours, a victorious athlete. Nudity in art was the expression of harmony between inner and outer excellence.

Statues, carved in bronze or marble were nude for men, but clothed for women. It would take one genius, Praxiteles, to invent the Greek female nude. His statue of Aphrodite, goddess of love, was so well executed that the goddess was said to have commented “where did Praxiteles see me naked?”. It became one of the most copied works of art of the ancient world, and more female nudes would follow, with nymphs, muses and graces.

In the Greek and Roman world, being shown in the nude meant being honoured as a prominent person. Clothing revealed the status or function in life, general, magistrate, matron. Being nude, however, elevated the person from being a mere human to the realm of myth and heroism. Clothed, he was only human, naked, he was Hercules. And in the case of Emperors, a sign of having attained divinity.

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Guillaume Deprez
The Startup

Art Historian author of a book about the destruction of cultural heritage by intolerance and greed, Lost Treasures https://lost-treasures-intolerance-greed.com/