The Passion of Collecting Academic Nudes

Join me as we explore my collection of Academic Nudes from the 18th, 19th, and Early 20th Centuries and serendipitous finds in the Museum, Art Auction, and Gallery world......examples from the Golden Age of the European Academie

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ernest Sigismund Witkamp (1854-1897) Nude Ephebe Posed With Shield And Staff

Ernest Sigismund Witkamp (Dutch-Amsterdam 1854 - October 1897) studied under Nicolaas van de Waay and Jacobus de Looy. He was one of the first pupils of August Allebe, the illustrious director of the Amsterdam Rijksakademie of Visual Arts. He is famous for his genre, portrait, and figure paintings. Landscape, still lifes, and cityscapes were also in his repertoire. From 1894 to 1897 he was conservator of the Museum Fodor in Amsterdam. His work hangs in several Museums in Holland.

This is one of several museum quality figure paintings in my collection. As I started collecting Academic Nudes I started to see a strange absence of artworks depicting female children as models. Good quality females nudes from the 19th Century were unexpectedly few and far between also yet there seemed to be an abundance of adult Male Nudes and surprisingly a good number of nude boys and male youths. During my research in the Fine Arts library I stumbled upon several books that I believe provide an answer. All too often we will judge subject matter in terms of our own contemporary society and forget that the mores and tastes of the past may in fact be the complete opposite of the contemporary.

In the book "The Male Nude - Tradition and Innovation" the author addresses this:

"From the Renaissance onwards, the nude, and the male nude in particular became the most important unit in a visual vocabulary. The Male Nude was used to excite the viewer not to religious contemplation but to 'heroic virtue.' Nude Male figures are seen as a guarantee of moral purity. Today, none of these emotional and intellectual structures exist now, and the Male Nude has been reduced to the level of a purely genre subject."

During my library exploration I also discovered another book which shed some light on this question also. The book is titled: Ganymede in the Renaissance by James M. Saslow. I will quote some of his ideas regarding the male youth as subject matter for many academic studies and depictions.

"Ganymede in classical mythology was a beautiful trojan boy who became the cupbearer to the gods. Abducted by Jupiter he became the wine pourer, beloved of the gods. Ganymede was a widely popular theme in the 16th century in Italy and the origin of the ephebe in classical tradition. In iconographic terms, the abduction and heavenly service of the beautiful mortal youth represented the epitome of four interlinked emotions:

(1) the rapture of the pure human soul, (2) intellect in the presence of divinity, (3) the uplifting power of chaste earthly love, and (4) both the delight and the disapproval associated with sexual passion, particularily in it's homosocial form. Ganymede became the archetype of ideal, youthful male beauty. Ganymede served as both a symbol of the androgynous ideal of male beauty, and, in his triumph over Hebe, of the superiority of that ideal over feminine beauty and character."

During the turn of the 19th & 20th Centuries prior to the first World War there arose in Northern Europe a sub-group of the Symbolist Movement called the "Cult of the Ephebe", where the male youth took center stage, exemplified by the works of Ferdinand Hodler, Hans Thoma, Magnus Enckell, Ludwig von Hofmann, Franz Stuck, Karl Hofer, and Sascha Schneider. The Symbolist's began with the idea or ideal first, and then sought to find in nature some "correspondence" or equivalence" that might be used in such a way as to announce that this art object was not a replication of that object in nature but rather a vehicle for recognition and contemplation of a higher reality. Objects needed to be presented in an iconic way to accomplish this transformation from object to art, from thing to evocation.

Caption: Standing Nude Ephebe With Shield and Staff
Artist: Ernest Sigismund Witkamp (1854-1897)
Medium: Oils on canvas
Dated: Signed and dated 1877 lower right hand corner

Here are a few examples of Witkamps work:

Portrait of a Young Woman 1894

Secret Amusement 1893

Girl in Atelier 1872

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