Joy of Museums Virtual Tours

Virtual Tours of Museums, Art Galleries, and Historic Sites

“Nude on a Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani (National Gallery of Art, DC)

Amedeo Modigliani - Nude on a Blue Cushion

“Nude on a Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani

“Nude on a Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani is one of the dozens of nudes created by Modigliani in a modern style characterized by elongation of faces and figures that echo precursors such as Titian, Goya, and Velázquez.

However, Modigliani’s figures differ significantly in the level of raw sensuality they transmit.

Unlike depictions of female nudes from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, in which female nudity is couched in mythology or allegory, this series of paintings are without any such context, highlighting the painting’s eroticism.

The several dozen nudes that Modigliani painted between 1916 and 1919 constitute many of his best-known works.

Modigliani’s dealer commissioned this series of nudes and friends, who lent Modigliani the use of his apartment, supplied models, painting materials, and paid him for his work.

The paintings from this arrangement were, therefore, different from his earlier depictions of friends and lovers.

These pictures were funded by Zborowski, his art dealer, either for his collection or with an eye to their commercial potential.

The nude, which depicts an anonymous model, is one of a series of nude artworks that caused a scandal when they were first exhibited at the Modigliani’s only solo show in Paris in 1917.

A crowd formed outside the gallery window, where one of the nudes was openly on display and police demanded the immediate closure of the exhibition.

Ultimately, Modigliani’s nudes reaffirm and reinvigorate the nude as a subject of modernist art.

Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France and is known for portraits and nudes. 

Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906, where he came into contact with prominent artists such as Pablo Picasso.

From 1909 to 1914, he devoted himself mainly to sculpture in which the linear form of African sculpture and the figurative Renaissance painters informed his work. 

His main subject was portraits and full figures of humans, both in the images and in sculptures. Later he painted the human figure almost exclusively and created many reclining female nudes. 

During his life, Amedeo Modigliani had little success and died aged 35 in Paris.

Nude Art

The nude figure is a tradition in Western Art and has been used to express the ideals of beauty and or other specific human qualities.

Ancient Greek Art is unique for its development of naturalistic and idealized depictions of the human body, in which mainly the nude male figures were the focus of artistic innovation.

During the Middle Ages, the Christian emphasis on chastity and celibacy discouraged depictions of nakedness, and the Greco-Roman nudes were transformed into symbols of shame and sin, weakness and defenselessness.

Completely unclothed figures were rare in medieval art, except with the notable exceptions being Adam and Eve and the damned in Last Judgement scenes.

The rediscovery of classical culture during the Renaissance restored the nude to art. Donatello, in the 1440s with his statue of the Biblical hero David, made the first freestanding nude statue since antiquity.

In 1504, Michelangelo completed his massive David, followed by the nudes paintings in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling to re-established a tradition of male nudes in depictions of Biblical stories.

The female nude returned to Western art in 1486 with “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, who adopted the pose of the classical Venus de’ Medici.

Nude on a Divan

  • Title:                Nude on a Divan
  • Artist:              Amedeo Modigliani
  • Created:          1918
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  60.2 × 91.7 cm (23.7 × 36.1 in)
  • Museum:        National Gallery of Art

Amedeo Modigliani

A Tour of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The Great Upheaval: Amedeo Modigliani’s ‘Nude,’ 1917

Amadeo Modigliani:  Art History Video


“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” 
– Leonardo da Vinci


Photo Credit 1) Amedeo Modigliani [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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