WWMAD: Posing in the nude: An 18th century checklist for ladies of worth

Each Sunday, Marie Antoinette uses her vast life experience to answer pressing modern questions on life, love and other catastrophes. If you’d like the former Queen of France to weigh in on your dilemma, please  send an email to whatwouldmarieantoinettedo at gmail dot com.

Angels steadfastly refuse to wear even a stitch of clothing, making it more difficult for mortal humans break into the nude image market without scandal. Venus Au Bain (L'innocence), Prud'hon, Pierre-Paul Musee du Louvre, Paris, France

Your Majesty,

My boyfriend is an artist. He’s an incredibly creative soul and terribly sensitive. He’s asked to take photos of me in the buff so he can learn about shadows and the female form. We’ve been together forever and I know it’s better to use me rather than a model in his studio classes since then he can take the time he really needs for his art. It all makes so much sense, but my friends say that if we break up I’ll regret it. I really want to help. What do I do?

—The (hopefully) Graceful Nude

I am no art expert (Mme. Campan was always shocked by how quickly I scuttled through the Louvre) but in my day, nudity in art was no great scandal. The nude sculptures and paintings were commissioned for grand homes and purposes are today respected as great art. It is a pity that in your modern day, the naked images captured in your modern mediums (phones and digital cameras) aren’t given the same regard. There are some essential differences however, between the forms and creation of these pieces, and I’ve given the matter a lot of thought. To this end, I’ve devised a helpful checklist.

How to have naked images of yourself received as classic art:
An 18th century checklist

  • Are you an angel from heaven? Angels rarely wear clothes. Angels are totally pure, frolic amongst other angels, and don’t know sin (making modesty irrelevant). They also aren’t human and aren’t on your Facebook friend lists. They get a pass.
  • Are you a Greek or Roman goddess? Goddesses also don’t need clothes, just long sheets that are jauntily thrown about. People in my day were very into Neoclassicism and greatly respected Greek and Roman art. However, you’ll note that Greek and Roman gods are also not human and since they hang out with other gods (not with people you know) they also get a pass.
  • Are you being painted to look like a Greek or Roman Goddess? By a professional portrait artist or sculptor? Sometimes, famous figures were painted as if they were Greek and Roman gods, providing justification for a lady to be painted in her skivvies. Professional artists commissioned for these works were more interested in their own business than one’s lady business. The subject was assured that motives were pure and result not blush-inducing.
  • Are you being sculpted in marble? Or painted in fine oils? I find the cheapness of nudity is often directly related to the materials used to capture it.  The (how you say) “Skank Stank” of American Apparel, for instance, cannot survive in marble.

If any of the above are not the case, and your situation includes, say, a smart phone, a $200 digital camera, or a homemade tripod made of textbooks, then you must decline because you will not be making art at all. Instead, you are making it a certainty that these images will be texted / screened for various inebriated individuals who are decidedly not art aficionados. You are also making it possible for your bared bottom to be tagged to your Facebook profile. The true depth of a mistake, I’ve found, is proportional to how quickly others discover it.

If you’re not sure now, you’ll never be sure. Ask your love, if he loves you, to use a professional model.

Your faithful servant,

Marie Antoinette

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