Never simply nudity

Martin, Amy (2017-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Recent studies regarding the motif of the nude female figure on Athenian red-figure vases of the 5th century BCE have caused much controversy among contemporary scholars. Whereas the nude male figure on Athenian vases is generally perceived by scholars as representative of heroic, ritualistic or civic nudity, the female form’s nude state remains ambiguous in comparison. In an attempt to uncover the cultural significance behind the appearance of the nude female figure on Athenian vases, multiple scholars have suggested that her utterly exposed state must surely have been indicative of a ‘disreputable’ status, especially that of the hetaira. However, this interpretation is problematic as it ultimately restricts the possible function(s) of the nude female figure to being primarily erotic in nature. Consequently, it can be argued that the full context of these vase images is not always taken into consideration when scholars discuss the connotations of the nude female form in Athenian vase-painting. The aim of this thesis is therefore to explore the broad meanings associated with the nude female figure in Greek antiquity, as well as the specific connotations assigned to the nude female form in Athenian vase-painting. Finally, this thesis endeavours to re-analyse a selection of these nude female figures to investigate whether additional functions to that of eroticism could be attributed to them. To meet this goal, this study utilised the research of various scholars who provided controversial and diverse discussions and interpretations on the motif of the nude female figure on Classical Greek vases. A general framework of function and meaning could then be constructed to aid in this investigation. Next, 649 images of nude female figures on ancient vases were briefly analysed in the online Beazley Archive under the category ‘naked’. It was established that, after the initial survey, five main categories of the function of the nude female figure emerged: religion and ritual, apotropaism, violence and vulnerability, eroticism and pornography, as well as female agency. Fifteen images were selected from the online Beazley Archive, three from each of the aforementioned five functions, as the core corpus, based on prevailing interpretations of these images that have been the most extensively discussed among scholars. To read these fifteen vase images, an iconographical analysis was chosen as a rigorous approach to viewing and interpreting the motif of the nude female form. This approach further aided in the re-analysis of these nude female bodies so as to place them in their appropriate categories of function. It was found that there is indeed a propensity for oversimplifying the cultural significance of the nude female form on Athenian vases by mainly eroticising her due to her lack of clothing. As a result, many of these nude women in ancient Athenian vase-painting are removed from their cultural contexts and their multiple functions in society disregarded or misconstrued. In conclusion, then, the nude female form on Athenian vases does not guarantee an erotic or pornographic setting and, as such, it cannot be said that her nude state discloses a ‘disreputable’ status.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Onlangse studies betreffende die motief van die naakte vrouefiguur op Atheense rooifiguur vase van die 5de eeu v.C. het erge polemiek onder kontemporêre vakkundiges veroorsaak. Terwyl die naakte mansfiguur op Atheense vase oor die algemeen deur vakkundiges as verteenwoordigend van heldhaftige, ritualistiese of burgerlike naaktheid beskou word, bly die vroulike vorm se naakte toestand in vergelyking dubbelsinnig. In ʼn poging om die kulturele betekenis agter die voorkoms van die naakte vrouefiguur op Atheense vase bloot te lê, het verskeie vakkundiges voorgestel dat haar volkome ontblote toestand sekerlik ʼn aanduiding van ʼn ‘berugte’ status, veral dié van die hetaira, moes gewees het. Hierdie interpretasie is egter problematies, aangesien dit uiteindelik die moontlike funksie(s) van die naakte vrouefiguur hoofsaaklik tot ʼn erotiese aard beperk. Gevolglik kan betoog word dat die volledige konteks van hierdie vaasbeelde nie altyd in ag geneem word wanneer vakkundiges die konnotasies van die naakte vroulike vorm in Atheense vaaskilderkuns bespreek nie. Daarom is die doel van hierdie tesis om die breë betekenisse wat met die naakte vrouefiguur in antieke Griekeland geassosieer is, te ondersoek, asook die spesifieke konnotasies wat aan die naakte vrouelike vorm in Atheense vaaskilderkuns toegeken is. Uiteindelik poog hierdie tesis om ʼn seleksie van hierdie naakte vrouefigure te heranaliseer om na te speur of bykomende funksies tot dié van erotisisme aan hulle toegeskryf kan word. Om hierdie doelwit te bereik, het hierdie studie die navorsing van verskeie vakkundiges benut wat omstrede en uiteenlopende besprekings en interpretasies oor die motief van die naakte vrouefiguur op Klassieke Griekse vase gelewer het. Sodoende kon ʼn algemene raamwerk van funksie en betekenis gekonstrueer word om hierdie ondersoek te ondersteun. Vervolgens is 649 beelde van naakte vrouefigure op antieke vase kortliks op die aanlyn Beazley Argief onder die kategorie ‘naked’ (‘naakʼ) geanaliseer. Na die aanvanklike opname, is dit bepaal dat vyf hoof funksie-kategorieë van die naakte vrouefiguur opduik: godsdiens en ritueel, apotropaïsme, geweld en kwesbaarheid, erotisisme en pornografie, asook vroulike agentskap. Vyftien beelde is uit die aanlyn Beazley Argief gekies, drie van elk van die bogenoemde vyf funksies, as die kernkorpus, gebaseer op die heersende interpretasies van hierdie beelde wat die breedvoerigste onder vakkundiges bespreek is. Ten einde hierdie vyftien beelde te lees, is ʼn ikonografiese ontleding gekies as ʼn streng benadering om die motief van die naakte vroulike vorm te bekyk en te interpreteer. Hierdie benadering het verder tot die heranalisering van hierdie naakte vroulike liggame bygedra sodat hulle in hul toepaslike funksie-kategorieë geplaas kon word. Daar is bevind dat daar wel ʼn neiging is om die kulturele betekenis van die naakte vroulike vorm op Atheense vase te oorvereenvoudig deur haar hoofsaaklik te erotiseer weens haar ontklede toestand. Gevolglik word talle van hierdie naakte vroue in antieke Atheense vaaskilderkuns uit hul kulturele konteks verwyder en hul veelvoudige funksies in die samelewing word verontagsaam of misverstaan. Ten slotte waarborg die naakte vroulike vorm op Atheense vase dus nie ʼn erotiese of pornografiese agtergrond nie, en, as sulks, kan daar nie gesê word dat haar naakte toestand ʼn ‘berugte’ status openbaar nie.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/101199
This item appears in the following collections: