From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Art modeling involves the posing of a model, an often paid, sometimes even professional, human subject, as an aid in creating a portrait or other work of art including such figure wholly or partially.
Models are frequently used for training art students, but are also employed by accomplished artists. The most common types of art created using models are figure drawing, figure painting, sculpture and photography. Although commercial motives dominate over the esthetics in advertising, its 'artwork' commonly employs models.
Throughout the history of Western Art, drawing the human figure from living models was considered the most useful tool in developing the skill of draftsmanship. In the art school classroom setting, the purpose is to learn how to draw humans of all different shapes, ages and ethnicities, so there are no real limitations on who the model can be. In some cases, the model may pose with various props, (an)other model(s), animal(s) etc., against real or artificial background, in natural or artificial light and so on.
The Greeks, who had the naked body constantly before them in the exercises of the gymnasium, had far less need of professional models than the moderns; but it is scarcely likely that they could have attained the high level reached by their works without constant study from nature. It was probably in Ancient Greece that models were first used. The story told of Zeuxis by Valerius Maximus, who had five of the most beautiful virgins of the city of Crotone offered him as models for his picture of Helen, proves their occasional use. The names of some of these models of the era are themselves known, such as the beautiful Phryne who modeled for many paintings and sculptures.
The nude virtually disappeared from Western art during the Middle Ages due to a combination of civil disorder and the attitude of the early Christians. This changed with the Renaissance and the rediscovery of classical antiquity, when painters generally made use of their relatives and friends as models, of which many examples might be quoted from Venice, Florence, Rome and other places, and the stories of Titian and the duchess of Ferrara and of Botticelli and Simonetta Vespucci, go to show that ladies of exalted rank were sometimes not averse to having their charms immortalized by the painter's brush. The story of the love between Raphael and his mistress-model Margarita Luti (La Fornarina) is "the archetypal artist-model relationship of Western tradition". Paid models were not unknown, as the story of the unfortunate contadino used by Jacopo Sansovino as model for his statue of the Bacchus will show.
Art modeling as an occupation appeared in the late Renaissance when the establishment of schools for the study of the human figure created a regular demand, and since that time the remuneration offered has ensured a continual supply. However academy models were only men until the 19th Century, as were the students. The status of nude models has fluctuated with the value and acceptance of nudity in art. Maintaining the classical ideals of Greece and Rome into the Christian Era, nudity was prominent in the decoration of Catholic churches in the Renaissance, only to be covered up with draperies or fig leaves by more prudish successors. The Protestant Reformation went even further, destroying many artworks. From being a possibly glamorous occupation celebrating beauty, being a nude model was at other times equivalent to prostitution, practiced by persons without the means to gain more respectable employment. The costumed models used to create historical paintings may not have been a distinct group, since nude studies were done in preparation for any figure painting.
In 19th century Paris, a number of models earned a place in art history. Victorine Meurent became a painter herself after posing for several works, including two of the most infamous: Manet's Olympia and Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Joanna Hiffernan (c. 1843 – after 1903) was an Irish artists' model and muse who was romantically linked with American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and French painter Gustave Courbet. She is the model for Whistler's painting Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl and is rumored to be the model for Courbet's painting L'Origine du monde. Suzanne Valadon, also a painter, modeled for Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and Edgar Degas. She is best known as the figure in Renoir's Dance at Bougival, and she was the mother of the painter Maurice Utrillo.
When Victorian attitudes took hold in England, studies with a live model became more restrictive than they had been in the prior century, limited to advanced classes of students that had already proved their worthiness by copying old master paintings and drawing from plaster casts. This is in part because many schools were publicly funded, so decisions were under the scrutiny of non-artists. Modeling was not respectable, and even less so for women. During the same period, the French art atelier system allowed any art student to work from life in a less formal atmosphere, and also admitted women as students. Live figure studies only returned to its classical status in art education throughout the England, Europe and the United States with the approach of the 20th Century.
In the postmodern era, the nude has returned to gain some acceptance in the art world, but not necessarily the art model. Figure drawing is offered in most art schools, but may not be required for a fine art degree. In trendy galleries, the nude has become passé. Beauty no longer has a place in art. Some established living artists work from models, but more work from photographs, or their imagination. Yet privately held open drawing sessions with a live model remain as popular as ever.
Models for life drawing classes are often entirely nude, apart from visually non-obstructive personal items such as small jewelry and sometimes eyeglasses. In a job advertisement seeking nude models, this may be referred to as being "undraped" or "disrobed". (Alternatively, a cache-sexe may be worn. Eadward Muybridge's historic scientific studies of the male and female form in motion, for example, has examples of both usages.)
In Western countries, there is generally no objection to either sex posing nude for or drawing members of the opposite sex. However, this was not always so in the past, particularly prior to the 20th century. In 1886, Thomas Eakins was famously dismissed from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for removing the loincloth from a male model in a mixed classroom. Similarly, Victorian modesty required the female model to pose nude with her face draped (illustration). European arts academies did not allow women to study the nude at all until the end of the nineteenth century. According to RAM guidelines in the U.K., art instructors and institutions consider the incident of a male model gaining an erection while posing cause for termination of the model's contract, or at any rate, grounds for not hiring him again. Policies may vary in other parts of the world, particularly for younger or inexperienced models.
During art school classes or an academic setting, it is commonly prohibited for anyone (including the instructor) to touch the model. Very close examination or requests for adjustment are typical—with the permission of the model. A few institutions allow only the instructor to speak directly with the model.
Additionally, nude models are sometimes paid to model as part of a performance or work of art; a fine example is the work of Vanessa Beecroft. Nude modeling can also occur in a private setting as demonstrated in the films As Good as It Gets and Maze. Finally, a person can be their own model, while solo, with or without mirrors.
On modesty and nude modeling
- L’anecdote suivante, permettra de préciser la distinction que nous avons faite entre le sentiment artistique et le sentiment sexuel. Un élève d’Ingres, M. Amaury Duval, raconte, dans un livre écrit sur l’atelier de son maître, qu’un jour, à l’école des Beaux-Arts, une femme posait toute nue devant plusieurs élèves ; elle n’était nullement gênée par tous les regards dirigés sur sa chair. Tout à coup, au milieu de la séance, elle quitte la pose en poussant un cri et court à ses vêtements pour couvrir sa nudité ; elle venait d’apercevoir à travers une lucarne la tête d’un ouvrier couvreur qui se penchait curieusement pour la regarder.
- Artist and Model in the Studio by Albrecht Dürer
- Study of a Seated Nude Woman Wearing Mask (c. 1865-66) by Thomas Eakins
- An Artist's Model