Saturday, March 25th, 2023 04:37:06

Portrayal Of Nudity In Mythological Artworks

Updated: July 20, 2013 11:17 am

Nudity in artwork may enhance the beauty of the subject of that artwork or it may turn the artwork into a pathetic and vulgar piece. It all depends upon the subject of the artwork as well as the mind and style of the artist. If the subject does not demand it and just for the sake of making it look attractive one paints it nude, there are chances that it will destroy the beauty of the subject. And if the subject demands nudity and one does not include it in the subject, then also it will ruin the beauty of the artwork.

The outcome of an artwork also depends upon the character and the mindset of the artist. How an artist understands a subject and the imagery he forms about the subject in his mind plays a crucial role in the way he depicts it on canvas or stone etc. Hence, the mindset, character and background of the artist plays an important role. An artist may just steal a character from a mythology and twist it to suit his storyline without caring about it’s real meaning and symbolism. Or he may research about a character, draw inspiration from its meaning and symbolism and then create his artwork accordingly.

In the first case, obviously the ‘artist’ will have no interest in the character’s real meaning and symbolism and all he would care about is his own whims and fancies. He would go to any length to twist the qualities of the character to suit his own depictions. In such cases, the painting will surely hold the name of the character but it would no longer truly represent the same character. In the second case, an artist, being a genuine art-maker, will study deeply about the character and will try to immerse himself in the said mythology and understand the meaning and symbolism of that character. Then, he would use his skills to depict the character in the way he had understood them. The former is a case of incompetence, carelessness and recklessness on the part of the artist. The latter is a case of genuine love, respect, dedication and seriousness on the part of the artist.

I believe that in the case of nudity, there is a very thin line between soberness and vulgarness and some people do not realise that their artworks crosses this line and looks vulgar. Especially in case of the paintings of gods and goddesses when this happens, it kills all the good aspects of the character that was meant to be represented and the only thing that remains behind is “nakedness”. Today, many artists without even researching or having the basic idea about the essence and meaning behind the image of a deity, feel that, painting a Hindu deity as naked is ‘cool’ and ‘good’. And most of the times, the outcome looks disastrous. As they end up painting only a “naked figure” and not “a deity which represents particular aspect of the universe”.Their artworks fail to bring forward the “Bhava- the Essence, the feeling” of the deity.


Delhi Art Gallery recently held an exhibition of paintings by Indian artists on the theme of female nudity. There were over forty Indian artists, from the late nineteenth century to the present, who represented the female figure in all its aspects. Here was Indian erotica on canvass.

It’s important to remember that their works bore beyond question the influence of western art, which by the mid-nineteenth century had reached great sophistication. The works of the impressionist, the expressionists, surrealists, cubists and many who don’t fall into any school, put on canvass and stone and marble the ensemble of human sensuality. From the representations of Venus by the Renaissance master, Botticelli, to nudes by Piccasso, there is tradition of over thousand years of nude paintings and sculpture.

So do we, but our representations of nudes in terracotta, bronze and later on paper are different. They are highly stylized. A nude woman looks almost alike, in the stones of Konarak or Rajput miniatures. Our art is sublime, devotional; the art of the West is erotic. What we saw at the Delhi Art Gallery is erotic art by Indian artists under the influence of Western art. There are over 40 paintings by Indian artists, covering a time span of some hundred years, which explore the human form in all its aspects. There is a painting by an artist of possibly early nineteenth century Bengal school, though secular is still done in the traditional devotional school of painting. Contrast this to a work by Souza, which shows a woman with huge breasts and heavy thighs lying on her back. There is a fine painting of reclining woman that unmistakably looks like one of the paintings of Modiliagnni (l920’s).

Representations in terracotta and bronze of male and female nudity have been done over the centuries by Hindu artists; it’s there in the stones of Konarak and Khujrao and Chola sculptures. But this was highly stylized.

This was not erotic but devotional art. In this exhibition was a painting of scantily dressed women or apsara flying in the air. It’s a decorative painting that says little of the figure’s body dimension or her emotions and desires. On the other hand there’s a painting by Souza, which can properly be called erotic. The best way to contrast this is to see numerous representations of Goddess Saraswati in our traditional art and contrast them with MF Hussein’s Saraswati. Here the Goddess appeared distinctly sensuous in a way she never had in our traditional art. The purpose of the traditional religious art was to evoke devotion.

There was is well-selected, well-organized and well-displayed exhibition of over forty artists on representations of female nudity. Some well-known artists like Souza and Kamkar and some lesser known like Khemraj
displayed in this exhibition. This gallery’s retrospspective on female figure was one of the best in
recent years.

By Bharat Wariavwalla

Recently I went across a few paintings of Hindu deities where the artist, under the pretext of modernity, made paintings of a few deities naked in such a way that it looked completely overdone. There was no spark in the face, no soberness in the character, no aspects of the deity were painted and so the painting did not bring any feelings of seeing a particular deity. To defend themselves they ask, why should an artist limit his imaginations just because a character is a part of a certain mythology? The answer is simple. If a person is interested in his imaginations alone, then he should work on it alone without stealing characters from any mythologies. What is the purpose of such a person in taking a character from a certain mythology when he has no care or regard for its meaning and symbolism? Why not he simply creates a brand new character from his imagination?What is the reason of stealing the subject from a certain mythology and then twisting it in such a way that the character becomes totally opposite and contradictory to its essence and meaning?

The reason people choose such a character is because it gives them fame and money. There are thousands of people who are fascinated by these characters but have no idea about the meaning and symbolism of the characters and hence they buy anything that some artists create and sell- it may be paintings female deities as naked and seductive or paintings of male deities as having gigantic muscles and body where no such portrayal was necessary. It is said that “Ignorance is Bliss” and ignorance of people about mythology is being used by some ‘artists’ for selling their artworks. These ‘artists’ do not even make a genuine attempt to understand the mythological characters they are depicting. They do not ask themselves, whether a particular character and subject requires nudity or not, whether it requires muscular portrayal or not. The worse thing is, they overdo it. Even in the cases of characters where portrayal of nudity or strength is required, the artists simply overdo it. This completely ruins the artwork.

There are a lot many temples of ancient and medieval India, where we can see lots of sculptures that are naked. Many of them also deal with topics like sex and family. But, none of them look vulgar. They are extremely beautiful masterpieces of some amazing artists of those times. These sculptures are the best examples of nudity that exhibit beauty and soberness. And if an artist wishes to take those sculptures as a reference to create his artwork, then along with the nudity, he must also imbibe the characters of beauty, soberness and grace that the sculptures exhibit. Only then, the artwork will become beautiful and worth admiring.

My only advice as an artist to any artist who wants to portray nudity in his artwork, especially when his subject is related to mythology,is that he/she should take some time before starting with his work, and do proper research, read as much as possible, try to go deep into the character and its meaning, if possible meditate on them and only then start creating your work. This would give lot better results.

By Pratyasha Nithin



Comments are closed here.