In her book Naked or Covered, Mineke Schipper examines historical perspectives on nudity across cultures and how they are changing in a globalised world.
When London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was festively opened in the mid-nineteenth century, Queen Victoria saw a replica of Michelangelo’s David for the first time and was deeply shocked by this unexpected confrontation with male nakedness. The museum directors immediately ordered a fig leaf to be positioned over the vulnerable parts of the beautiful young man in order to prevent such an embarrassing situation from ever happening again when a member of the royal family paid a visit to the museum – a protocol maintained until the 1950s. In other parts of Europe, the increasing sense of pudeur led to many more statues from classical antiquity being provided with green varnished metallic fig leaves. Since then, the restrictions on matters previously considered shocking have spectacularly diminished in the Western world. People see more nakedness than the Victorian age could ever have imagined. Advertising and pornography continuously push the limits.