Scientists unlock the secrets of women's sexual attractiveness...but beauty's still in eye of beholder

WHEN the Italian poet D'Annunzio visited Maillol's studio he admired the elegaic, classical sculptures on view but let it be known that he preferred his women a little thinner.

Maillol was indignant. Of course he realised that, by urbane modern tastes, his women were rustic, stocky, compact. But the point of his art wasn't sexual craving so much as spiritual well-being. The viewer is supposed to think of the Golden Age, not a rendezvous.

Art is far from a reliable barometer of past sexual preferences because although the bodies of women of child-bearing age have been a relatively constant subject throughout its history, an enormous variety of different ideals have been projected on the female form.

Even when it comes to the goddess of love, the ideal isn't single-tracked, according to Plato, for whom there were two distinct Venuses: Venus Coelestis and Venus Naturalis, one for the libido, the other for more rarefied emotions.

It is with trepidation, therefore, that one should re-visit the nudist canon with Dr Tovee's vital statistics in search of further confirmation, among the lovelies of the past, of the findings of his researches among 40 lusty Newcastle undergrads.

The earliest two reproductions in Kenneth Clark's classic study, The Nude, are of the "Venus" of Willendorf, a paleolithic carving of such extraordinary ampleness that the supposedly ideal hip to waist ratio of 0.7 is inverted (and more!), and a Cycladic doll, who with her waif-like torso would not be out of place next to Kate Moss on the catwalk. But who's to say that the maker of either image sought an accurate depiction of a normal woman, let alone a desirable one? Reproduction is not the only urge in art, any more than in sex.

Even if artistic images were to be treated as neutral documentation, it is unlikely that the "optimum body-mass index" would reveal a common, biologically-determined ideal. For artistic ideals to reflect sexual libido we'd need to believe that nudes are drawn from life, or at least from longings based on experience. We'd also need to believe that the patron's libido overrules the artist's ideals, which is no more likely than a shopper's needs influencing a couturier's designs (according to Giorgio Armani, incidentally, Claudia Schiffer's proportions are "graceless").

As Kenneth Clark says, the nude is not so much a subject as a form: it can be filled with any number of preoccupations, aesthetic, sensual, intellectual. Flesh and its amplitude can likewise have symbolic meanings which transcend the changing shape of shapeliness: Courbet's earth godesses, more Rubenesque than Rubens, are as much about politics as lust.

In the final analysis, it's as likely that art should influence sexual

tastes as the other way around. The depicted nude establishes an ideal to be sought after in the real world.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND FOLKESTONE

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND DOVER

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

English Teacher - From October Half Term

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Secondary English Teacher requir...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week