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The earliest Greek sculpture, from the early Bronze Age Cycladic civilization consists mainly of stylized male figures who are presumably nude.
This is certainly the case for the kouros, a large standing figure of a male nude that was the mainstay of Archaic Greek sculpture.
The nude figure drawing or figure study of a live model rapidly became an important part of artistic practice and training, and remained so until the 20th century.
In Baroque art, the continuing fascination with classical antiquity influenced artists to renew their approach to the nude, but with more naturalistic, less idealized depictions, perhaps more frequently working from live models.
It was a central preoccupation of Ancient Greek art, and after a semi-dormant period in the Middle Ages returned to a central position in Western art with the Renaissance.
Athletes, dancers, and warriors are depicted to express human energy and life, and nudes in various poses may express basic or complex emotions such as pathos.
The first realistic sculptures of nude males, the kouroi depict nude youths who stand rigidly posed with one foot forward.
By the 5th century BCE, Greek sculptors' mastery of anatomy resulted in greater naturalness and more varied poses.
The Nursing Madonna and naked "Penitent Mary Magdalene", as well as the infant Jesus, whose penis was sometimes emphasized for theological reasons, are other exceptions with elements of nudity in medieval religious art.An important innovation was contrapposto—the asymmetrical posture of a figure standing with one leg bearing the body's weight and the other relaxed.An early example of this is Polykleitos' sculpture Doryphoros (ca. In the convention of heroic nudity, gods and heroes were shown nude, while ordinary mortals were less likely to be so, though athletes and warriors in combat were often depicted nude.By the late medieval period female nudes intended to be attractive edged back into art, especially in the relatively private medium of the illuminated manuscript, and in classical contexts such as the Signs of the Zodiac and illustrations to Ovid.The shape of the female "Gothic nude" was very different from the classical ideal, with a long body shaped by gentle curves, a narrow chest and high waist, small round breasts, and a prominent bulge at the stomach (as in the Hugo van der Goes at left).