The concept of the female body being the ideal subject for nude art only became popular around the 16th century when the Renaissance was in full bloom. Art before this time mainly focussed on the male figure that could portray the perfection of gods, such as the young and beautiful Apollo or Jesus Christ on the cross. In ancient Greece, the naked male figure was associated with triumph and victory (possibly related to the Olympic games being played in nude). Thus, statues focussed on nude male figures, with female figures tending to be clothed.
The point in history when this perception of nudity changed was when an Italian artist called Giorgione painted the Sleeping Venus in 1510. This painting portrays a nude Venus (or Aphrodite) lying peacefully on white and red cloths upon the backdrop of Venetia. This new type of nude art where the naked female form was displayed – with the figure posed with grace and shyness – sparked a revolution, changing the concept that the female body evoked an “uncomfortable feeling” in the audience. Many art historians consider this painting one of the starting points of modern art.
Among the many gods and goddesses in Greek mythology, there is a trio of goddesses who are personifications of beauty, elegance and grace – Aglaia (brightness and splendour), Thalia (festivity and plentiful) and Euphrosyne (joyfulness). They are daughters of Zeus and Eurynome the nymph and are famous for their pure, graceful looks and representing the beauty in life. Also known as the Charities, they are often depicted in artworks as dancing merrily in a circle or tending to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex, and her son Eros.
The Graces are known as young, virgin maidens who are often depicted as naked with clear, fair skin. They are beauty in the purest form with the absence of sexual lust (despite the nudity). Although they have no active role in mythologies, it is considered that their presence in any party or festival ensures people will have a joyous and fun time. Much like the Muses, the Three Graces are also connected to the arts, often shown with musical instruments. They are one of the most popular models in paintings and sculptures as they embody the concept of perfect beauty. This is why, like Aphrodite, they tend to be drawn with body proportions matching the Golden Ratio.
Interestingly, they are almost always arranged to have two facing forwards with the middle one facing the other way.
(From top-left: Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera, Antonio Canova’s The Three Graces, Raphael’s The Three Graces, Greek sculpture of The Three Graces, Raphael’s Cupid and The Three Graces)