Things ain’t what they used to be: Nudity

OUR late and much-loved Altea landlady who was in her nineties when she died, wanted a bicycle in her early teens.

GOYENECHE PALACE: Former location of the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid Photo credit: CC/Raystorm

OUR late and much-loved Altea landlady who was in her nineties when she died, wanted a bicycle in her early teens.

“My parents wouldn’t buy me one,” Marcela told me.  “They said it wasn’t ladylike and would have shown too much of my legs.”

That was in the 1930s but by the 1980s no-one was batting an eyelid at topless females on the beaches of the Costas.

Change when it arrived, came hurtling along, but not a lot went on – or came off – in the intervening years.

Take my husband, for instance, who studied at San Fernando in Madrid, the art school now integrated in the Universidad Complutense.

He was 17 when he took the entrance exam and his worried mother once confided that at the time she felt the need to talk to the principal and share her worries about nudity.

Would her little boy be expected to draw and paint people with no clothes on, she wanted to know.

He would indeed, she learnt.  It was part of his education in Art with a capital A and no harm would come to him or to any of his companions because of a few naked bodies.  In any case, during his first year, Life classes consisted of drawing statues although later on models would sometimes be clothed and sometimes nude, the principal said.

Outsiders were allowed to attend these life-drawing classes, and my husband remembers that one term in his third year they included a priest and a nun.

The priest raised no objections, but on her first day, the nun approached the Life-drawing teacher, Don Amadeo, and asked if it was possible to provide the male model with a loincloth.  Presumably this was intended to preserve her modesty rather than his.

“No,” she was told.  “There will be no loincloth, we draw what’s there.  If you feel uncomfortable, you’re free to leave.”

The nun stayed.

“What were her drawings like?” I asked him once.

“Pretty good, all things considered,” he said.

The models, who came in all shapes, sizes and ages, included Natalia who was now old but had obviously once been beautiful.  She claimed to have posed for Julio Romero de Torres, famed for his rather chocolate-boxy Andalucian stereotypes

“But all of the oldest women used to say they’d posed for him,” my husband explained.

One morning, when the San Fernando school was still located in the Academia Real building in Calle de Alcala, he walked into the entrance hall and saw the principal talking to a quite tall woman who was well-dressed but ordinary-looking.

“Could be a new model,” he commented to Narciso, a fellow-student.

“Idiot!  That’s the Duchess of Alba,” Narciso hissed.

Kipling once maintained that the colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady were sisters under the skin, but would that apply to a duchess and an artist’s model?

Goya would probably have said that it did. After all, wasn’t the model for his Maja Desnuda and Maja Vestida paintings rumoured to be Maria Cayetana de Silva, the 13th Duchess of Alba?

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Written by

Linda Hall

Originally from the UK, Linda is based in Valenca and is a reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering local news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at