In the Middle Ages, nudity was associated with sin, and few artists dared to venture into naked territory. With the Renaissance all this changed. In a burst of freedom, the nude form, which had not been captured since ancient times, was depicted again in all its glory.

Religion still played an important role in portraying nudity. Although Michelangelo and Da Vinci glorified the naked body, their works were still rooted with Christian tradition.

Simonetta Vespucci, the model that inspired Botticelli's (1445-1510) Venus, was regarded as the epitome of Venetian beauty. Her nude form was carefully draped and covered.

blog.php-385 Details of Vénus, Sandro Botticelli (1484 - 1486) Florence, Galerie des Offices

Fast-forward to Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), the Spanish painter known for capturing the female form. In Catholic Spain during an ultra-conservative 19th century, Goya, with no theological or political weight on his shoulder, depicted women: naked, euphoric and free.

Thanks to Goya, this freedom to paint the naked body continued to be relished by artists for centuries after him. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' La Grande Odalisque, 1814, deliberately distorts the body, celebrating how each body is unique in its form.

blog.php-386 La maja desnuda Francisco Goya, c. 1797–1800 Museo del Prado

blog.php-387 Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres La Grande Odalisque, 1814 Musée du Louvre

At the dawn of the 20th century, Edgar Degas (1834-1917) brought to the world intimate drawings of nudes: women in bathrooms, with dark and sensually contoured bodies.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) Après le bain, femme nue s'essuyant la nuque, 1898 Pastel sur carton © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Après le bain, femme nue s'essuyant la nuque, 1898
Pastel sur carton
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

blog.php-389 Georges Braque, Le Grand Nu Musée national d'art moderne, Paris

Picasso and Braque went on to reinvent the wheel, or should we say body, in works such as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 and Le Grand Nu,1907 to 1908. For centuries, the role of the painter was to be as close to reality as possible, Picasso and Braque's Cubist works readdressed the nude.

blog.php-390 Egon Schiele, Fille aux cheveux noirs sans jupe (1911) Leopold Museum, Vienne, Autriche

In the early 20th century, nudity was used as a tool to delve deep into the psyche. German Expressionist painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918) captured a raw sexuality in his works which were often inspired by prostitutes, with lines and textures which created grotesque, Carnivalesque expressions of his desires and frustrations.

blog.php-269 Henri Matisse, Nu Bleu II, 1961 © 2014 SUCCESSION H. MATISSE / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK

During the 1950's, after the "dismemberment of the body" created by the Cubists, Henri Matisse's (1869-1954) works presented the body as no longer a form, but an idea, a concept which the artist materialised through the use of solid colour.

blog.php-391 Tom Wesselmann Great American Nude #92 1967 © 2006 Estate of Tom Wesselmann, Courtesy L&M Arts

Post World War II, saw Pop art of the 1960's, appropriate consumer images of nudity, even taking depictions of the body near the realms of pornography, as seen in works by Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004).

Today, in a digital world where the intimate and the private are increasingly brought into the spotlight, perhaps we are returning to controlling depictions of nudity. A control, which of course, the artists of today will revolt against.