By Harry Mount for the Daily Mail. Perhaps the most famous Greek sculpture of all, Discobolos, the discus-thrower, shows how athletes competed in the nude. About two-and-a-half thousand years ago, a cultural miracle took place in ancient Greece. Democracy was born in Athens, the first great tragedies and comedies were written — and statues were carved that were more astonishingly lifelike than ever before.
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British Museum explains why Greek statues are naked
Depictions of the Nude Figure in Greek and Roman Sculpture
Heroic nudity or ideal nudity is a concept in classical scholarship to describe the un-realist use of nudity in classical sculpture to show figures who may be heroes , deities, or semi-divine beings. This convention began in Archaic and Classical Greece and continued in Hellenistic and Roman sculpture. The existence or place of the convention is the subject of scholarly argument. In ancient Greek art warriors on reliefs and painted vases were often shown as nude in combat, which was not in fact the Greek custom, and in other contexts. Idealized young men but not women were carved in kouros figures, and cult images in the temples of some male deities were nude. Later, portrait statues of the rich, including Roman imperial families, were given idealized nude bodies; by now this included women. The bodies were always young and athletic; old bodies are never seen.
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Naked ambition: when the Greeks first stripped off
T he oddity of ancient sculpture often escapes us. A male nude, a Greek statue, has become very familiar over the past 2, years: it is what we expect of ancient statuary, that it show off its muscles. At times it can seem overly familiar, a bit tacky or tawdry or maybe just banal, evoking the withdrawing room of an aesthete of the s, a gay sauna in the s or the yard at the back of a modern garden centre alongside the blue-glazed planters and bird baths.
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