Over the centuries, the nude has inspired some of the most sublime works in western art. It even survives today, in the 21st century, and not just as an academic exercise. For although it has undoubtedly undergone countless transformations, it is still one of our main links to the classical tradition, because the artistic depictions from ancient Greece and Rome continue to influence the way we perceive physical perfection.

But what is the nude? The British historian Kenneth Clark describes it as “an art form invented by the Greeks in the fifth century BC, just as opera is an art form invented in seventeenth-century Italy”. Clark’s succinct definition suggests that the nude is not merely a theme of art but a form of art.

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