Peep Show: Canova sent a copy of his “Naiad” to George IV of England — an infamous playboy and a collector of pornography. (Courtesy National Gallery Of Art)

After well over a century of prim coverups, literal and metaphorical, of the sexual content of the greatest nudes in art, experts have been waking up to the erotic, even pornographic, potential. “I think it’s essential that we understand them as objects in the context of men wanting to look at naked women,” says Amelia Jones, a pioneer of feminist art history who teaches at the University of Manchester in England. Over the past decade or two, most of her colleagues have abandoned the genteel distinction Sir Kenneth Clark insisted on, in a famous lecture series in Washington in 1953, between the chaste “nude,” cleansed by an artwork’s aesthetic and philosophical ambitions, and pictures of the pruriently “naked,” meant to get a rise out of viewers.

The new view: Flesh is flesh is flesh. Any culture that thinks “sex” when it sees naked bodies will still think “sex” when it sees pictures of them.


Blake Gopnik
Washington Post