Titian created the warmth of a living body on canvas just to turn men on.
These days, it would be hard to get away with that
Nudity never stops causing anxiety, because it never stops arousing awe.
Sienna Miller stands naked, beautifully pregnant.
Painter Jonathan Yeo claims he chose to unveil this portrait in Berlin, because Germany, he says, is less hung up about nudity.
Yet somehow he let images reach all the British papers.
Is it daring? It is controversial? On the contrary: pregnancy has become the modern equivalent of a fig leaf, making nude images of women acceptable to all sections of society and all divisions of the media.
From Mark Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant to Damien Hirst's pregnant nude colossus Verity, imminent motherhood has become the respectable garb for artistic representations of naked women.
The reception of Yeo's portrait is typical.
"Sienna poses nakedwith her baby bump", raves the London Evening Standard headline.
Miller has posed for her nude portrait "heavily pregnant", gasps the Daily Telegraph.
This whiff of supposed controversy and subversion is a smokescreen, allowing artists to escape a far worse censure.
For the naked truth is that today it would be far more controversial for an artist who wanted to be taken seriously to portray a stereotypically "gorgeous" nude, the equivalent of a Page 3 picture in the Sun.
Imagine if instead of portraying a woman who is soon to give birth, Yeo unveiled a modern version of Titian's 16th century nude Venus of Urbino.
Titian's model lies on her bed looking at you seductively.
The most sophisticated painting style of all time is dedicated to a single goal: erotic pleasure.
Titian deploys exquisite wafts of flimsy colour to make this woman's breasts as soft and inviting as he can.
He creates the warmth of a living body on canvas – just to turn men on.
Even if Yeo or Hirst were capable of that kind of sex magic, would they get away with it? Or would women call them out as misogynists?
Titian also found beauty in pregnancy.
His painting Diana and Callisto depicts the moment when the virgin goddess Diana discovers one of her nymphs is pregnant.
It is a disaster for Callisto to be caught out – she will be turned into a bear for this – but Titian is curious about her physical appearance, not repelled.
There is nothing new, in other words, in the artistic celebration of the pregnant body.
It has simply become a way to soothe our worries about the naked depiction of women.
Like many students I got my first introduction to the politics of the nude in art from John Berger's book Ways of Seeing.
For Berger, a male critic open to 1970s feminist theory, the nudes painted by artists such as Titian are indeed pornographic.
They enact male power.
Yet I believe this is just another way of saying that nudity is dangerous and exciting in art.
It always will be.
In previous centuries, the art nude was daring and dangerous because it challenged Christian convention.
Religious anxieties have long since faded in the west, to be replaced by political ones.
Artists in the Christian era got away with nudity by portraying Adam and Eve.
Today, the best way to avoid censure and to be taken seriously is to depict difference.
Lucian Freud painted nearly as many conventionally beautiful women as Titian but he got the greatest plaudits for his "controversially" non-standardised beauty, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.
What worked for Freud can work for Yeo.
One was a great modern artist, whereas Yeo is very, very minor.
The only really offensive thing about his painting is the dim way it is painted.
That aside, here is an example of the infinite vitality of nakedness in art.
The power and fascination of the human form is such that we will never stop getting our knickers in a twist about it.
PaintingArtSienna MillerPregnancyJonathan Jonesguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
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