Preview: The Shock of the Nude

Mary Beard - The Shock of the Nude

In the first of her provocative two programmes, with distinctive wit and flair, Mary Beard takes a personal view of the Nude in Western art and its troubling power to provoke ideas about gender, sex and moral transgression.

Mary starts by exploring the very first full-size nude sculpture in Western art: an Aphrodite by Praxiteles; and one of the very first reclining nudes in Western Art: Titian’s Venus of Urbino. She asks how a woman like her should respond to the artworks.

She considers the challenge of depicting the female nude for a woman artist, looking at one of the greatest 17th Century painters, Artemisia Gentileschi. And in a life-drawing class, Mary joins a hen party as they attempt to draw a naked male.

Art critics over the centuries have made lofty claims about the nude and the ennobling effects of art, playing down the erotic – even sometimes pornographic – nature of some great works of art. Mary argues we mustn’t forget the edgy and dangerous nature of the nude – which is why it remains such a magnetic subject for artists and viewers alike, and exploring, in her words: “how for so long men got away with it.”

The Shock of the Nude – Monday at 9.00pm on BBC Two.