Ammanati on the Nude in Art

(Below) From Ammanati's L'Arno.

Sculptor Bartolommeo Ammanati's (1511-1592) wrote this letter of renounciation of the nude:

". . . that they take care for the love of God and if their salvation is dear to them not to fall into the error and sin into which I have fallen whilst working, namely that of making many of my figures completely undraped and naked. I have in this followed the use, nay the abuse, of those who did so before me and who have not considered that it is far more honourable to show oneself to be an honest and chaste man rather than a vain and lascivious one, even though working most excellently. In truth, mine is no small error or defect and I have no other way in which to amend and correct it (since it is impossible to change my figures or tell whomever sees or will see them that I regret having made them thus) but to confess and write it publicly, making it known to all that I did ill, and how much I am pained and repentant, and in this way warn all others not to fall into such a harmful vice.

For rather than offend society and even more our blessed Lord by giving a bad example to anyone, one should admire the death of both body and fame. It is a very grave and great sin to make naked statues, satyrs, fauns, and similar things, baring those parts which should be covered and which one cannot see but with shame: both reason and art teaching us that they should be covered. For if no other harm comes from it, one thing is certain: that others understand the artist’s dishonest mind and greedy desire to please, from which it follows that such works bear witness against the conduct of their creator. I therefore confess (inasmuch as it appertains to me) to having this much offended against God’s great majesty, though I was not moved by the desire to offend. But I do not excuse myself for this as I see that the bad effect is the same; and ignorance, custom, and similar things do not mitigate my fault in the least.

Man must know what he does, and what effects might and will in the end result from his deeds and works. Therefore, my dearest brothers of the Academy, may this warning be acceptable to you, for I give it with all the affection of my heart: never make figures which in any part might be lascivios or immodest, I speak of completely nude figures, nor do any other thing which might induce any man or woman of any age to wicked thoughts towards which, unfortunately, this corrupt nature of ours is all too ready to be moved without the need of further invitation. Therefore I advise you all to guard yourselves with every care in order that in your mature and prudent years you may not, as I do now, feel ashamed and pained to have acted thus and especially of having offended God, as no one knows whether he will have time to ask forgiveness, nor whether he shall have to render account in all eternity for the bad example he has given and which lives and will, unfortunately, live to shame and taunt him for a long time, and which, with such care and vigilance, he has tried to render immortal."

Quoted in Born Under Saturn, The Character and Conduct of Artists: A Documented History from Antiquity to the French Revolution. Page 178, By Rudolf and Margot Wittkower, Published by Norton Library, 1969.

Michelangelo Articles:

Michelangelo Work Methods

Michelangelo's Racantation of the use of the nude in art

Michelangelo and Amannati's Renunciation of the Nude in Art

Book Review: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling - Ross King

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