Read the full, unedited interview below Note: this is an unedited transcript of our recent podcast Mary Beard on the nude in western art, which you can listen to here. It contains some explicit content.
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By Jo Tweedy For Mailonline. However, in the second episode of her latest television series, it was the year-old historian's turn to disrobe, a feat that she admitted on Twitter had left her a 'tad embarrassed'. Viewers tuning in saw Beard's third and final sitting for artist Catherine Goodman, in which she drew several charcoal-on-canvas portraits of Beard in the buff. Before removing her dressing gown, Dame Mary admitted that she felt 'slightly brave' for taking her clothes off in the name of art. Ahead of the show airing last night, she told her Twitter followers to brace themselves, saying: 'Just sitting down to shockofthenude.
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But how far does the history of Western art, composed for the most part by and for men, really lend itself to subversive interpretations? As she points out, all we see is the sexual trunk: head, feet and hands, the thinking and doing parts, are missing. The practice of covering up the genitalia of nudes of both sexes became widespread in 16th-century Europe. She joins conservator Eoghan Daltun, who is prising the fig leaf off the genitals of a plaster cast of a Greek male nude. Unfortunately, as she discovers, the penis was destroyed in the process of attaching the fig leaf. All that remains is a chipped pair of testicles: a metaphor, perhaps, for the effects of Christianity upon eros. To make this point, she joins a hen party at a life drawing class, where the model is a naked man. There are a few excited murmurs when the model, Julian, steps onto the platform and exposes himself to the female participants — and on national television. So far, so decorous.
I accept that our culture rates self-involvement increasingly highly. In Shock of the Nude , which explores the idea of the male gaze, she is the star and Michelangelo, Courbet and all the rest of them can go hang. Having planted this notion in our minds, she then offers another thought. Why, then, did she not to mention her director include it? What irks me about this solipsism is that it comes at the expense of facts, context and inquiry.