by Thomas Kren et al. Getty Publications, November 2018. 432 p. ill. ISBN 9781606065846 (h/c), $65.00.
Reviewed November 2019
Megan Milewski, Digital Project Assistant, Special Collections Research Center, University of Michigan Library, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Renaissance Nude is the lavishly illustrated catalogue for the exhibition of the same name, organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the Royal Academy of the Arts, London. Thomas Kren, Senior Curator Emeritus at the Getty Center, conceived of and planned the exhibition and this catalogue, both of which he hopes will recast the conversation about the nude in Renaissance western art. Citing the dichotomous lenses through which the nude has been studied in the past (naturalistic or ideal, northern European or Italian, Classical or Gothic, and naked or nude), Kren and his co-authors endeavor to present a more nuanced view of the nude. Moving from the linear narrative of an either/or approach, the essayists aim to present a “mosaic of common elements” that span geographic bounds to reveal contrasting or shared cultural values and approaches (p. 1). The reader is cautioned not to expect a “single common idea of a natural or normative body” (p.269).
The volume is presented in five parts: The Nude and Christian Art, Humanism and the Expansion of Secular Themes, Artistic Theory and Practice, Beyond the Ideal Nude, and Personalizing the Nude. This thematic approach, Kren argues, enables an examination of “continuities, linkages, and exchanges” across boundaries to reveal an interconnected Europe (p. 2). Eight focused essays by an international assemblage of noted Renaissance scholars respond to the major themes of the catalogue. In addition, 112 catalogue entries, each accompanied by a full-page illustration, provide visual and contextual evidence to support and elucidate the essays. There is a particular emphasis on the humanistic themes of the second section with three essays focusing on the female nude in northern art, the tradition of beauty as seen in depictions of Venus, and the representation of classical poetry. The final section of the book includes two epilogue chapters looking in two different directions; the Reformation in the north and Michelangelo in Italy, perhaps indicating an end to the interconnectedness evidenced by the fifteenth-century nude.
The production quality of the book is high, with sumptuous, richly colored images throughout. The book is hefty and will occupy the oversize shelves. While the text may challenge the casual or undergraduate reader, the illustrations invite examination and exploration. Apt comparisons are made across media and illustrative details buttress particular points made by the authors. With discussions geared toward the research community, The Renaissance Nude is a worthwhile addition to any academic, museum, or research library collection. Its value is augmented by a full panoply of scholarly apparatus, including endnotes to each essay and catalogue entry, exhibition citations for all objects in the catalogue, an exhaustive list of reference citations, image credits, and an index.