From Italy with love: naked males in classic art

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A list of the top 10 male nudes in art  was recently compiled by The Guardian. And with Italians being well-known for being great artists with an eye for beauty (and oft-times being not too hard on the eye themselves), it’s no wonder many of the artists on the Guardian’s list are Italian, or at least inspired by Italian art and artists.

One gorgeous Italian is notably missing however – Michelanglo’s David.

Many believe Michelanglo’s David to be the greatest artwork ever created. He’s also certainly quite good looking…even if not technically Italian.

Not that Michelangelo was totally overlooked. The Guardian gave a good look over his nude Christ the Redeemer statue, and approved. Located in the heart of Rome, it is still a controversial piece of artwork owing to the depiction of Christ in the buff. Less so since the horrid addition of a girdle during the Baroque period designed to protect Christ’s modesty.

Michelangelo in turn was greatly inspired by the Belvedere Torso, which also make The Guardian cut. Housed in the Vatican Museum, it is considered to have launched the classical revival.

The Belvedere Torso also inspired the Michelangelo-loving artist Robert Mapplethorpe with his work, Charles Bowman, N.Y.C. This photograph shows a male torso framed to mirror the form of the Belvedere Torso.

Even if Michelangelo’s David was excluded, there is still a David on the list – by Donatello. His David is somewhat more, um, flamboyant than Michelangelo’s much butcher version. With this one statue, Donatello’s David was the first work to be born of the ancient Greek and Roman revival. The statue is now in Florence’s Bargello Museum.

Beside’s David, what greater male figure is there than Hercules? A copy of a Greek statue by Lysippos was made to be housed in Rome’s Baths of Caracalla some two centuries after Christ although he is now in Naple’s Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

Antonio Canova, an artist from Venice, was second on the list. Commissioned by Napoleon to create a bust, what emerged rather some four years later is a larger-than-life statue that was given to the British government upon Napoleon’s fall. The statue is now being held in Apsley House, London.

Top of the list was Italian artist Caravaggio with his Victorious Cupid (aka Love Conquers All,) The chiaroscuro technique brings full attention to Cupid’s physique, said to be modelled on Caravaggio’s real-life boy squeeze. With this work, Caravaggio has returned Cupid to the classical tradition of depicting Cupid as a youth, rather than a chubby-cheeked baby.

The Guardian complete list of top 10 male nudes in art is:

  1. Caravaggio’s Victorious Cupid (1601-02)
  2. Canova’s Napoleon (1802-06)
  3. Wolfgang Tillmans’ Kneeling Nude (1997)
  4. Michelangelo’s Christ the Redeemer (1519-20)
  5. Lucian Freud’s Naked Man, Back View (1991-92)
  6. Donatello’s David (1440-60)
  7. Greek Belvedere Torso (1st century BC)
  8. Greek Riace Bronzes (5th century BC)
  9. Glykon (after Lysippos) – Farenese Hercules (3rd century AD)
  10. Ropert Mapplethorpe’s Charles Bowman, NYC (1980)


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