The word nude entered in the English dictionary in 1531, as a legal term "unsupported, not formally attested", from Latin nudus 'naked, bare'. It will be, in the eighteenth century, used to describe a painting or other artwork depicting a human figure in a state of near or total undress.
While the word nude has becoming positive in art history, due to the large use of it over the years, the word naked has been always negative. In fact, its definition is “having no clothes on, having no defence or protection, unprovided with needful or desirable accessories”. (1.)
Art historians dated the first nude back to around 30-25,000 BC, when a small statuette of a corpulent woman, called the Willendorf Venus, was adored as a goddess. Being naked and being embarrassed about that, will increase after the raise of Christianity, during Medieval Era, when the only nude figures in art were Adam and Eve.
Analysing, in fact, Egyptian and especially Greek art, historians realized how being naked was part of their ordinary life. All the Greek’s Gods or heroes were, indeed, naked. Also, they used to participate naked to the Olympic Games.
From the 13th Century on, artists begun to rediscover classical antiquity and the nude started to appear again in art history. Artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and later on Titian were seriously interested in anatomy and drawing from life become part of workshop practice. But, the scenes depicted were only exclusively mythological or religious and the nudes were idealised. In the 17th Century, artists such as Caravaggio and later on Rubens used the nude in a more naturalistic way, though they were still used primarily in history or religious paintings.
During the 18th century, Academies started to arise in England, following the model of the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. The most important was the Royal Academy, founded in 1768. While in France the nude was accepted and considered a natural form of beauty, in England it was a source of embarrassment due to the puritanical Evangelical religion that enforced strict rules of social behaviour.
Nevertheless, the competition with French painter was tough, because drawing nude figures in the life class was the core of their curriculum. So, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became supporter of national’s painting and patrons of a collection that included nude subjects. However, the artists should avoid sensual and erotic desire in their nudes and they should use well known historical or mythological content. So, artists justified their nude placing it within the framework of the respected classical tradition.
The use of life classes raised controversies because female models were, usually, considered as prostitutes, due to their lower social status and their profession. At the same time, male models were also coming from lower classes but their great physique was appreciated and compared with Greek’s sculpture.
In the 1860’s English...