Greek nude sculpture
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. Warriors die on the Trojan battlefield in the buff. Athletes hurl the discus in the altogether.
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The art of Ancient Greece focused unashamedly on the naked body. Female nudity was treated discreetly but the unclothed male form was everywhere. The show Defining Beauty at the British Museum investigates the Greek obsession with physical perfection - and the man in charge says there's an obvious parallel with people's desire today to look good at the gym. Yet even he finds it hard to explain exactly why the naked human form featured in the art of Ancient Greece in a way it didn't in other cultures of the same era. I don't think there's an easy explanation why. Apart from shared cultural values there was language and the recognition of the Olympian gods: those were the big unifying elements. Not all the artwork shows the body naked but a lot of it does.
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Copy of work attributed to Polykleitos. Jean Sorabella Independent Scholar. Figures with no clothes are peculiarly common in the art of the Western world.
New research suggests that art might have been imitating life more closely than previously thought. Perhaps the most famous Greek sculpture of all, Discobolos, the discus-thrower, shows how athletes competed in the nude. Men strode about free of their togas in the bedroom and at parties called symposia, where they would eat, drink and carouse. Nudity was also common on the athletic fields and at the Olympic games.