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The study of the nude is a rich artistic tradition that has informed artistic practice since ancient Greece and Rome. Though the study halted in medieval times, the humanist sentiment and the interest in classical figuration during the Renaissance revived interest in drawing the body from direct observation.
The great painters of this time, if not printmakers themselves, employed workshops to reproduce their paintings for publication, often taking as their subject Greek and Roman mythology. Baroque painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens is one artist that embraced the nude and took advantage of the commercial nature of printmaking. Rubens was famous for his religious and mythological scenes of fleshy, voluptuous women.
In the 20th century, artistic attention turned away from the study of the human form in favor of abstraction and the celebration of the machine age. But artists continued to explore the nude as a subject, and figuration became popular again in the 1980s. The nude has been central to the work of artists such as Alice Neel, Lucien Freud, Eric Fischl, Marlene Dumas, and many others in the late 20th century.
The nude is common in Japanese woodblock prints. Ukiyo-e prints were traditionally genre scenes of everyday life, and had a big impact on impressionist artist in the 19th century
German expressionist artists explored the nude in rough, primitive wood cut prints at the turn of the 20th century. Artists of this movement include Emile Nolde, Ernst Kirchner, and George Kolbe
The return to figuration in artistic practice, often focused on the abject and provocative, was called neo-expressionism. Neo-expressionists promoted using the figure to express both violent and subtle emotion