A history of nakedness in art: Mary Beard on her new BBC series Shock of the Nude

In the latest episode of the HistoryExtra podcast, classicist Mary Beard discusses her new BBC Two series Shock of the Nude, which explores western art’s depiction of nakedness across history. Read the full, unedited interview below...

Podcast Mary Beard Transcript

Note: this is an unedited transcript of our recent podcast Mary Beard on the nude in western art, which you can listen to here. It contains some explicit content

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Matt Elton, editor of BBC World Histories magazine: OK, so your new series is called the Shock of the Nude, what inspired you to make this particular programme on this subject?

Mary Beard: I think we were all looking for a subject in the history of art that people really wanted to kind of argue about. That still made people cross or puzzled or take very, very different views. An awful lot of art history somehow comes down to admiration and here was a subject where you could see there were controversies. And so it was fun to try and unpick what those controversies were and how we might resolve them.

ME: And some of your comments have caused a bit of a stir. You said, I believe, that female nudes in western art are soft porn for the elite dressed up in a classical guise.

MB: I don’t think I quite said that.

ME: OK, OK.

MB: I mean, when those things get reported, they get cruder and cruder the further they go down the food chain. I think what I said, I can’t remember the exact words, is that you’ve got to face the question of that – of whether nudes are soft porn for the elite. And, you know, in a way, what I was thinking was committed gallery-goers tend to be terribly snippy when they hear someone say, “Oh this is just soft porn for the elite, isn’t it?” And, you know, I can be sniffy about that too, but I think it’s a question that you really have to answer (or you have to ask). I’m not sure what… there isn’t an answer, is there? But I think you do have to look at this and think: “so what is the difference between this and soft porn?” And that comes over very clearly in one of the paintings that we feature in the first episode, which is Courbet’s Origin of the World, which is a very detailed, hyper-realistic painting of a woman’s genitals and she doesn’t have a head and she doesn’t have any limbs. And you think: why is it? How do we explain why this is in a gallery and is a masterpiece (whereas similar photographs of that, we’d much more likely find in a not-wholly-salubrious shop)? When it comes to the human body, I think that there isn’t a straight divide; porn or art is partly in the eye of the beholder. But I think it was very interesting looking at this painting, which has been extremely controversial, and it now hangs very much in a very kind of proud place in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. It was interesting thinking about all the ways that we have of convincing ourselves that a painting like that is art. So it’s in a very elaborate, gilded frame, which says masterpiece, right? It’s called the Origin of the World, which gives it a kind of, sort of, high-level mysticism. And even the Musee d’Orsay’s own website talks about how the use, and the sophistication of the use, of colour stops it being pornography. And all those things are, in a way, true, but what I think that shows is just how difficult the boundary is between art and porn. And I’ve been very surprised at the vehemence of the reaction, even to the kind of rather crude semi-accurate quotes of what I said. How really violent people get when they’re confronted with the difficulty of that distinction. And, in a way, justifies the programme, I think. You know, looking at some of the responses on Twitter, you think, “Blimey, you need a programme which actually investigates some of these issues.” Because people are really, not just sounding off, that’s fine. No, they’re threatening, you know, “I think she needs to be punched every day.” For saying that there might be a problem about the difference between art and porn. You think, wow, why is this so difficult?


Listen to the full interview with Mary Beard on our podcast


ME: Something your programme illustrates really strongly is that this has always been contentious, it has always been a subject that’s got people animated and angry. You open with a 4th century BC statue, for instance. What was that statue and what reaction did that cause?

MB: Well, it’s what we believe to be the first full-sized sculpture of a female nude in the west, certainly in Greece but probably the west. And it’s a very puzzling piece, it was made in the early 4th century BC. We’ve got no idea after centuries of representing women clothed, the sculptor Praxiteles chose to do this sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite in the nude. What we do know is it was instantly quite difficult for people. The first clients he offered it to said no, thank you, I’m not taking that. It then ended up being taken by the city of Knidos in what is now Turkey. And they kind of turned lucky in a way, because it became a huge, slightly notorious tourist attraction. They put it, you know, they put it on the ancient equivalent of fridge magnets, you know. It went on coins and on lamps and everything. But there is, there’s a whole lot of kind of background stories told about it which shows you very clearly how difficult it was for people. There’s one famous incident, it’s described a couple of centuries later, about a young man. A story of a young man who falls in love with the statue and manages to get locked up with her in the temple. And then he tries to, well, you know, sleep with her is probably a bit too coy and rape her is probably a bit too extreme, have his way with her is what kind of books usually say. And he then, he does that, he leaves, apparently, the mark of his seed on her thigh and then he goes off and he throws himself off a cliff. And I mean, I think often people read that story, or classicists read that story, it’s not exactly a well-known story throughout the world. And they say, “Isn’t that odd?” Yes, it is an odd story but really it is a story about how this provokes human desire. So when you say, look, one thing about the nude is that it implicated in male gaze, the female nude or sometimes the male nude, implicated in the male gaze and the male desire, people tend to think that’s a sort of invention of some radical 1960s and 70s feminists. That idea that what art does is provoke sex goes right back to the very, very origin of the western female nude.

ME: Why, for so long, was the nude a female nude?

MB: I don’t think it really was, for so long, a female nude. Because, I mean, the historical truth about this is although the female nude was the nude that caused anxiety, there had been male nudes long before that in the Greek world. Early Greek sculpture, back to the 7th century BC, of men, is very often, usually naked. And I think what you see there is a really puzzling difference between the representation of the male body and the female body. And in some way, the male body in the classical world wasn’t much, I’m sure it was in part, but it wasn’t much associated with desire. It was associated with virtue, with good citizenship. You know, you saw the virtue of the classical citizen in the virtue of their naked body. And you didn’t see that in women, women weren’t active citizens. They didn’t have any political rights and their body was quite different. So you’ve got two very different strands of appreciation there. And I think it’s, it’s really quite striking how now probably the male nude, at least on places like television, you know, what you can and cannot show of the male body is probably more restricted than the female body. This, I think, would have amazed the classical Greeks.

ME: Why do you think that is?

MB: I think it’s an almost, almost all these why questions are impossible to give any simple answer to. I mean, there is something about the way that Christianity, at some level, changed, undermined that sense that the naked male body, genitals and all, was a symbol of citizenly goodness. And so it kind of brought, once the… that version of how you understood the male nude had, it had gone into abeyance, it became also much more associated with sex and desire. And you can see that in Michelangelo’s David. You know, now again, one of the, you know, the modern equivalent of the Aphrodite of Knidos in being, you know, the fridge magnet version of, in this case, a male nude. And, you know, people now, me included, we flock in our millions to see it. When it first went up, in the public square in Florence, Michelangelo, in many ways, was trying, I think, to recapture some idea of the sense of the classical body being a version of citizenly virtue. But the citizens of Florence didn’t think that. And they pelted it, they threw things at it and, within a few weeks, they’d fitted a little belt with some low-hanging leaves from it, in order to disguise its genitals. Its genitals were covered up till the very end of the 19th century.

Mary Beard at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, for her new TV series 'Shock of the Nude'. (Photo by BBC/Lion TV/Helena Hunt)
Mary Beard at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, for her new TV series ‘Shock of the Nude’. (Photo by BBC/Lion TV/Helena Hunt)

ME: Sticking with the theme of gender, because that really interests me that, I think you say, that for so long, men got away with this. It was male buyers, it was male commissioners. There’s a painting by Johan Zoffany which I wonder if you can describe for us, because I thought it was really interesting.

MB: It is one of the most amazing paintings that we looked at in the whole series, is this painting by Zoffany of a gallery in the Uffizi Museum in Florence. And for me, it’s an interesting painting because it reveals not only the raunchiness of people’s association with these nudes. But also it shows Zoffany, you know, being very well aware about what’s going on, you know. He also knows exactly about the male gaze and male desire. And what it is, is it’s this internal gallery where, you know, the really greatest masterpieces went in the Uffizi in the 18th century. And it’s absolutely packed full of men. Now, we know that women went into this gallery because we’ve got descriptions of them saying what they thought about it. What Zoffany’s done is put it only men and he’s, almost every man there, whether it’s in terms of homoeroticism or heterosexuality, is engaged in leering in some way at a sculpture or a painting. One bit of the, it’s packed full with lovely kind of detailed scenes of the way these blokes are looking at, are looking at the works of art. But there’s a wonderful classical sculpture, what’s now known as the Venus de’Medici, it’s very like the first classical nude by Praxiteles. And you look at them and you suddenly see, there’s one guy there who’s kind of peering at her with a magnifying glass. And the other bloke’s around the back, looking up her bum actually. And you think, you know, what Zoffany is outing here is that very fragile boundary between, you know, love and sex and over-love of art. You know, all these relatively well-heeled, largely British travellers to Florence, are there gawping at a nude. And, as I say, I love it because it’s another example of how people have known this, you know, for centuries. You know, it’s not a new discovery to say that nudes prompt male desire, Zoffany got there a long time ago.

ME: Can looking at non-western art cultures help understand why western art is so fascinated by the nude, or seems to be?

MB: I think looking at non-western cultures puts western culture very much into perspective and you might almost say puts it in its place. We decided not to do a complete world tour of naked bodies in art. And that’s not because there aren’t the most amazing and wonderful representations of the naked human body in almost, almost every culture you can find across the planet. What we felt very strongly was that there wasn’t another culture which quite obsessed about the naked body and its sexuality in the way that western culture, since the ancient Greeks have done. And, you know, if you think about it, we sit here and we assume that, the basic central bit of art training for young artists will be to draw the naked body. We think that that’s absolutely, that is what art training is centred on. And one of the things we wanted to do, and we show a little bit of this in the first episode, is that if you look at other cultures’ versions of this, A, they’re not doing that. They’re not kind of, you know, what they would say about us, I think, is kind of weirdly fascinated by it. But they’re using the naked body in a way that is much less, much less sexualised, much less fetishized. You look at a wonderful Yoruba headdress from Nigeria, with a, you know, tremendous naked female at the centre of it. And what’s very clear is that this is, you know, this is a headdress which is celebrating community, it’s celebrating woman’s role at the centre of the community. And it’s really significantly different from most of the ways the west has treated the female nude. Now, why that’s, you know, that’s another of those big why questions. Why the west has gone down this route? I think it’s very difficult to say. But I think it’s quite important, actually, as a first step, to show people that it has gone down a route that, from the outside, doesn’t look so obvious and natural as it does to us.

ME: I believe the second programme, which is on next week, explores the ways in which considering the nude makes us consider how we see ourselves as humans more generally. How did you go about doing that, that sounds like quite a big subject?

MB: Well, I think what we wanted to do was to say, look, we have very strange boundaries about what we think counts as a nude. And that still very much sits, not entirely, but it very much sits within a potentially classical form. And we wanted to say, look, there’s all sorts of other naked bodies that maybe we have to put back into the category of the nude. And we start, very near the beginning of the programme, with the body of Jesus. Because actually if you think about, you know, western urban culture, the place you see naked bodies is almost, sometimes is more often than anywhere else, apart from an art gallery and even there sometimes, is in churches. You know, the crucified Jesus is usually not absolutely naked but effectively naked. And we don’t talk about the nude Jesus, very occasionally but it’s slightly odd to talk about the naked Jesus. And so it was quite interesting to explore why we thought Jesus hasn’t come into the category of the nude. And what happens, actually, if you look at him with a sense that you could see him as a nude, and we look at some amazing Michelangelo drawings that are in the British Museum, with Neil MacGregor who used to be the director there. And he’s very clear that, you know, one of the bodies that has been most crucial and formative in the way the west has thought about nakedness and nudity is Jesus’s body. And of course it has because if you have a religion whose central paradox is God made Man, you have to say so in what sense and how far is Jesus Man and how far is Jesus is a sexual being? And there are some extraordinary drawings in which you can see, well, yeah, let’s not put too fine a point on it, there’s not much doubt that Jesus has got an erection. And that’s important naturally, that isn’t, you know, that’s not smutty, that’s an important way of saying yes, Jesus was a man in every sense of the word of being a man.

ME: Some of these anxieties are timeless in a sense, and then there’s others that may have been reframed recently in terms of the MeToo debate, in terms of gender binaries breaking down. Do you think this is a chance for us to re-understand nude in terms of 21st century identities?

MB: I think that there is a 21st century perspective here. When we were very much in the planning stages of the programme, Jonty Claypole, who’s the head of BBC Arts said to us, very firmly, “I want to know why we’re making a programme about the nude now. What’s different?” And that proved to be a very important interjection because it made us think a bit harder. And very quickly, obviously, I think, we thought, “Right, OK, we’re in a moment in which binary gender, different forms of sexuality are being increasingly challenged.” That, in some way, must be framing the naked body in a very different way. And I suppose I thought to myself that we might end up concluding that in a gender-fluid, non-binary world, the nude, perhaps had had its day. Because most nudes, not all nudes but most nudes in the kind of mainstream western tradition are being jolly well binary. But the more we explored with people in the trans community and other people working on, you know, different versions of gender, the more we found that there was a huge enthusiasm not to kind of get rid of the nude but to rewrite the nude and to make it speak differently. And one of the most moving interviews that we do is with someone who’s a trans model and they speak very powerfully about the importance of seeing the trans body in the history of nudity. So I came much, really to my surprise, thinking that maybe newer, more radical views about gender might be just what the nude in art needed rather than being about to kill it off.

ME: Are there any other interviews or experiences you had making the documentary that stand out for you particularly?

MB: Yes, almost every single one. I think one that is kind of unforgettable for me actually comes from the first episode and it’s going to see Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting of Susanna and the Elders in Burghley House, a painting which is about the prelude to sexual violence. And it was memorable because we could get up so close to it and paintings are always very, they become more edgy when you get very near them. But here, it really prompted, I think, some important points about how women represent the nude and sexual violence to themselves when they’re artists. And in the case of Artemisia Gentileschi, and she’s going to be the subject of a big exhibition in London soon which will be amazing, I think. You know, Artemisia Gentileschi is notoriously the victim, herself, of rape. And seeing a painting of a woman who is being assaulted, basically, by somebody who has been raped is, makes you rethink, you know, it’s hardly, yeah, OK, in the light of MeToo but in all kinds of ways. You know, the nature of what it is to represent the naked female body. And to wonder whether, I think quite difficulty, you know, we can’t get, I can’t certainly, get the fact that Artemisia herself had been raped. That’s part of my understanding of those paintings. But there was also a sense in somehow, that I had to have another, I had to learn to look at it with different eyes too. That Artemisia can’t go through the whole of history being a painter whose only mode is to represent the outrage of the violence done against herself, important as that might be. And so to think about how, how you could see those paintings of hers, both inside and outside a narrative of rape. Or, for that matter, how you look at, you know, Titian’s most famous nude, I suppose, the Venus of Urbino. And the question that we raise there. It’s OK if you see it as the male gaze, part of that relationship between viewer and painting. Well, OK, that’s fine and, I think, right in part. But where does it leave me? You know, I enjoy this painting, so how does a woman enjoy these paintings? Because I think, for me, part of the experience of making the programme was I got to like the nude more. You might have thought that you’d end up liking it less after a, you know, a fairly kind of consistent diet of what you can imagine, you know, over several months. But I’ve found myself warming to it in a way that I hadn’t expected. And to try to think, right, I’m going to position myself, I have to find a place for me in this encounter. And I suppose I put myself in the position of the female model and I thought what does it, you know, there’s a bit of female solidarity here. I’m here with the Venus of Urbino and, you know, actually, we shouldn’t be taking the male gaze quite as seriously as sometimes we do and maybe we ought to be laughing, just like Zoffany, at the guys who are leering at us.

ME: Which leads nicely into my last question really, which is what new ways of seeing or questions would you like people to have as a result of watching the documentary?

MB: I haven’t got any one in particular. I’d like, I’d like them to recognise the difficulties that they have with this medium and this genre, which we’re often kind of… encouraged not to look at. You know, we’re encouraged to take the nude a bit for granted, even though we know it’s controversial in all kinds of ways. And I’d like us to examine what we think we’re doing in looking at it. I don’t want to stop people looking at nudes, I’ve got absolutely no interest in that whatsoever. But I want them to, and when I say I want them, I mean, also I want me, to just be a bit more kind of quizzical about what’s going on when we do that. And wonder why and how we let some people look at some things and not others. You know, what does it matter if there’s a fig leaf on it or not? What are we saying about ourselves, you know, what are we saying about ourselves when we think, you know, there are some bodies which we don’t feel very happy about or have not traditionally felt happy about being represented. What happens when we bring that back in to the nude? Can we start to think about this in a way that possibly, you know, this is only a very small hope here but possibly make us think about, you know, modern pre-occupations with a very normalised body image. You know, maybe, there was an article in a newspaper recently which said actually getting teenagers to do life drawing was very good because they actually saw what a real body was like and they looked at it, and they had to look at it, hard, which hadn’t been Photoshopped into perfection. So there’s those kind of issues but, you know, just look again, that’s what I want people to do.


Mary Beard in conversation with Janina Ramirez

Mary Beard and Janina Ramirez discuss some of the thorny issues surrounding the nude in western art over the centuries

Janina Ramirez: OK. Mary, I’m so excited to be here talking with you on the eve of launching your beautiful new series, Shock of the Nude, out to the world. And for BBC History Magazine, we’re going to talk a little bit, me with my art historian hat on.

Mary Beard: Oh, right, oh, that’s a bit scary.

JR: Oh, well, no, I won’t scare you with it, it’s not a big pointy hat, it’s a good hat. And I wanted to ask you about three particular artworks that pop up in the series and why you think they’re important, why we should be looking at them afresh with new eyes. So first of all, one that I know is close to your heart, the Aphrodite of Knidos. Now, you’ve been looking at her for a long time.

MB: How very tactful of you. I’ve been looking at her for about 50 years.

JR: Oh, goodness. And in those 50 years, has the way you’ve looked at her or thought about her changed?

MB: Yeah, I think it has. You know, I think when I was, you know, when I was a young classicist, like most people, I thought that a line-up of nudes, going back to the Aphrodite of Knidos, the first nude that we know to have been made in the Greek world, you know, I thought they were pretty dull, actually. Let’s face it, you know, and you go into museums, particularly museums in the Mediterranean where they’ve got lots of them and you see them all against the wall and you see people, totally understandably, just walking past them. Because we haven’t relearnt, I think, how to find them interesting.

JR: Yeah, we go almost marble blind in the face of all of that, yeah.

MB: Yes, it is. And what is really exciting for me, and I suppose it took about another 20 years after I was a student first looking at this sculpture, was to see that it was really, really kind of edgy, controversial. You know, it was the first time I realised that stuff that I think is classic in every sense of the word, you know, actually could be dangerous and difficult.

JR: And, of course, you know, it’s rejected, it’s not necessarily embraced by everyone at the time.

MB: You know you think, “Oh, everybody in the Ancient world must have liked this.” No, they didn’t. When Praxiteles did this thing first, the first town he offered it to said, “Not on your Nelly, I’m not having it. You know, this is the first full-sized naked statue of a woman stroke goddess, not having that, thank you very much. You know, give us a clothed one, please.” In the end, the people of Knidos, who are sort of a bit further down the food chain in Praxiteles’ customer list took it. But they hit really lucky because although it remained controversial in actually very, very vivid ways, it also became a notorious tourist attraction. So the tourist industry at Knidos, this little town on the coast of what’s now Turkey, boomed with people coming to see the first nude.

JR: Like everybody rushing into the Louvre and skipping past everything to get to the Mona Lisa, they have their own Mona Lisa.

MB: That’s right, yeah.

JR: But there was something so intriguing about the sculpture because, and again, I think this sort of feeds into what you’re picking out in the series. She is naked, as in she has no clothes on, but it’s something else than that, isn’t it? It’s supposed to be sort of timeless nakedness, of the nude, and she conceals yet reveals, doesn’t she?

MB: Yes, she’s a very naughty sculpture really because she looks as if she’s being a little bit modest, you know, she’s got her hands over her breasts and she’s got by her side, a kind of towel, I suppose, and a water pot. So really, it’s, I think, to give the viewer an excuse to look at her. You know, you can’t look at a woman or a goddess just like that, you have to imagine that you’ve just surprised her as she was having her bath.

JR: Like Diana in the hunt, you know, the idea of peeping at her. And in a way, then, that’s where we start to get into this problem of the female nude in particular but nude bodies more generally. How complicit are we in the looking, and if we think about an artwork like Courbet’s Origin of the World, that is purely a woman’s private parts on display. Even the angling, there’s no head, it’s just the lowermost body, it’s all about that.

MB: You know, and if you look at, you know, standard definitions of pornography. I mean, I don’t think there is ever any good definition of pornography but if you look at what people say makes something pornographic, it’s that you have no personality, all you’ve got is the genitals. You don’t have a head, you don’t have a face, you’re not engaging with this person, you’re just seeing it as sexual organs. And in every way, on that kind of definition, Courbet’s Origin of the World looks like a piece of porn.

JR: Absolutely.

MB: And yet, it is treated now, and to some extent for me has become, is, you know, let’s, you know, when I look at it, I actually enjoy looking at it, I think. But it’s become a piece of art, it is a piece of art. Yet it’s a piece of art that you can see everybody is terribly, being very careful to remind you that it’s art, you know?

JR: Yeah, when they talk about all the wonderful use of mustard and brush strokes. Yes, and you sort of think, we’re concentrating on brush strokes…

MB: You know, it’s sort of, I mean, the website of the museum tells you that it’s not pornography because of the nice colours and you think, this is… I mean, I can see where they’re coming from but it’s desperate. They put it in this gilded frame which, you know, and it’s the kind of frame that you don’t put pornography in, you know? This is the kind of frame that masterpieces go in. I think also, we don’t know who gave it the title, we’ve got no idea.

JR: Well, the title, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Because as soon as you title something, you’re leading the viewer down a route and it’s such a huge, all-encompassing title, isn’t it?

MB: Yes, it says women’s genitals are mystical.

JR: Absolutely, all life originates here.

MB: Yeah, and, you know one of the things we explore very briefly, or throw out in the programme is saying let’s try giving it a different title and this starts to look a bit different. You call it ‘Jeanette’s Pussy’ and then it’s instantly changed in significance. But it’s been wonderfully controversial in the Musee d’Orsay and there is, people can find this online very easily. There’s a wonderful street artist who came down, from outside, somewhere, and sits in front of it, in the Musee d’Orsay and then she lifts her skirt up, reveals her genitals. And then, of course, what happens is that, although they do have a sort of smile on their faces, the people in the room are very amused at this. But the guards, the custodians have been told to go and remove her. So there is a woman, a real woman, whose genitals you can’t actually see as clearly as one in the painting, is being removed from the gallery when, behind her, is this really detailed –

JR: Super close-up.

MB: I assume that what she was doing was trying to point out the irony of this.

JR: And it is ironic and actually this leads me onto my third artwork which I wanted to talk about which is about removal. You know, at what point do we remove things because we deem them to be inappropriate. And in the series, you feature Waterhouse’s Nymphs. And it’s a beautiful pre-Raphaelite painting, I think it’s gorgeously done but it was very controversially removed from display in Manchester Gallery. Now how, what’s the big thorny issue behind all this, Mary?

Well, there’s a sad story of complete misrepresentation in this, I think. I mean, it’s a pre-Raphaelite painting of a young man who is about to lured to his, we assume, death by a group of bare-breasted, barely pubescent water nymphs.

JR: I mean, they do look extraordinarily young, without a doubt, they look like 13, 14-year-old girls.

MB: And it caused a huge scandal quite recently because the artist Sonia Boyce came and did an intervention installation in which she removed Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs and all hell broke out. You know, amongst art critics who should have known better, honestly, saying, “This is censorship, Hitler started this way.”

JR: I know, “Are we going to be burning books next?” was one of the comments I saw, yeah.

MB: Yeah. And actually, what Boyce never intended, the removal of this painting, to be permanent. What she intended to do was make an intervention which was actually intended to make us look harder at the painting. There’s something kind of nicely paradoxical that you think harder about something if it’s taken down.

JR: Absolutely.

MB: And that is, in a way, what happened. But with real kind of, you know, sort of, fulminescences of journalistic outrage. And I mean, I think what she was trying to say is, “Look, just notice what this picture is of.” She’s not trying to take it down forever, she’s trying to say notice that it’s a group of young women, very young women, as it were, enticing this relatively innocent, we suppose, man. Think about what that’s saying. And the reaction was, it was very stupid actually in a lot of the press. The reaction in Manchester, where, it’s in Manchester Art Gallery that this happened, was actually much more interesting. Because she had loads of Post-It notes and had people writing their responses to not seeing the painting. And they were much, much more nuanced than most of the commentary.

JR: Than the press response. But I think that’s what’s so interesting. It started a discussion, and it’s a discussion, I love it in the series when you look at the Post-It notes and explore each person’s response. There is so much more we could talk about, Mary, but I only had ten minutes with you. I think we covered a lot, we had more to talk about.

MB: Thank you, Nina.

JR: But for now, thank you for talking art with me.


Listen to the full podcast interview with Mary Beard here

Mary Beard is a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, as well as an acclaimed author and broadcaster. She was speaking to Matt Elton, editor of BBC World Histories magazine, and Dr Janina Ramirez, a British art and cultural historian and television presenter

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Shock of the Nude starts on BBC Two at 9am on Monday 3 February. Find out more here