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Martin Postle

Person subjecting his or her body to an artist’s observation. A tradition of working from living models, begun in Classical times, was revived in Europe in the Renaissance and was an important feature of academic practice until the 20th century.

The model, in the academic sense, was from its inception until the 19th century synonymous with the male figure. The earliest recorded reference to artists’ models comes from Pliny the elder, who states that ‘nude statues holding a spear’ were ‘modelled after young men in the gymnasium’. But earlier than this, Greek sculptors had drawn on empirical observation and imitation of the nude male, using the individual as the basis for the construction of an aesthetic ideal. Polykleitos, for example, whose system of proportions for the human figure was embodied in a treatise (the Canon) and a statue (the Doryphoros, late 5th century bc; copy, Naples, Mus. Archeol. N.), based his work exclusively on the male nude. There was, by way of contrast, no attempt to quantify the beauty of the female form. The female model was regarded, as the earliest references indicate, in a highly subjective manner. Commonly assumed to be the artist’s mistress, she was regarded as a physical embodiment of his muse. ...