Primož Jakopin

On Cave Nudes

Reflections from the Caving Calendar Project

  1. Acknowledgements
  2. Introduction
  3. Nudes
  4. Antiquity
  5. Renaissance
  6. From neoclassicism to WWI
  7. Modernism and Postmodernism
  8. Nudes in Slovenian Art
  9. Nude Types
  10. Cave Nudes
  11. Author's Experience
  12. Conclusion

1. Acknowledgements

          I would first like to express my gratitude to Peter Gedei for the permission to use his photo of a scene in Mitjina jama cave, 2007, and to Lučka Uršič, for permission to publish the photo, taken by her late father Anton Pečan on the bank of river Sava in 1931. Further thanks go out to Vitalij Martinenko for his criticism of the draft and to all the others who have contributed to this work, either directly or by making available many resources published herein, including the web site that helped recover several images of many, present in the earlier versions of this work which have since disappeared from their original locations.
          The paper was originally published in June 2014, updated in May 2015, revised and updated in August 2017. Of 38 accompanying pictures the origins of two were explained in the previous paragraph, two were provided by the author and the remaining 34 are coming from the Wikimedia Commons repository. A click on those pictures takes the viewer to their source page.
          Abridged version of the paper was published in Jamar (Caver) journal, volume 7, year 2015, pages 57 - 59 (in Slovenian), titled O jamskih aktih (On Cave Nudes).

2. Introduction

          In the first week of June 2014, from Wednesday to Friday, the e-mail list of DZRJL, Ljubljana Cave Exploration Society ( witnessed a considerable discussion about the caving calendar which would show cavers, both female and male in cave surrounding dressed as caves are per se, without additional garments. There were 14 postings on the subject, started by Matija (Perne) on behalf of Rok (Grecs). Other contributors were Dean (Pestator), Bajsi (Fatsy / Kristofer Pečar), Teo (Delić), Armin (Krivec) and Pac (Miran Erič).
          It all started from the web page Nudes / Caves with cave nudes of the Geneva photographer Richard Forster - a considerable number of his recent images can be found on the web site Forster is a self-taught photographer, but over time his work improved, he participated in many photo contests, published in books and magazines and in 1993 he was honored the title FIAP Artist by the Fédération Internationale de l'Art Photographique (FIAP). After 1970 he devoted his talent mainly to nudes, he works alone, at best outdoors, in the nature, with models who like this work. As testified by the mentioned web page his quest brought him to caves, too.
          The discussion on the DZRJL list developed into general agreement that a production of a cave nude calendar in the framework of the society would be a good idea, and that something similar as the calendar, produced by another Ljubljana caving club, JKŽ, Jamarski klub Železničar / Railway Caving Club for the year 2008. In the end Pac wrote that he suggested the idea of a calendar 8 years ago, but did not get any echo from the society members.
          As in 2007 on the occasion of the JKŽ calendar the writer of these lines felt the urge to respond, and if the circumstances in 2007 prevented him from doing so, the flow of time changed the state of affairs slowly and after three close encounters with eternity it became clear to him that the time for further hesitation has ran out.

3. Nudes

          The topic is generally well known, it is not only part of general education but also a beloved domain of those who are not interested in school at all. But nevertheless it makes sense to illuminate the field a little wider. A lot of knowledge and findings from history can be put to good use for an application to cave environment.

          Nude, the artistic depiction of undressed body, has a long tradition in arts, it has always been used to express ideals of male and female beauty and other human qualities (after a Wikipedia article). At the academies of fine arts and in other art schools female nude (85 % of all painted nudes) is part of the curriculum for several reasons - besides classic and romantic value it is a very good subject to study drawing of curved surfaces and soft transitions from light to dark.
          Even nowadays nude fares better than other art topics because of the fact that from the Middle Ages on (closer milestone is the year 1797) especially in the western hemisphere the subject is connected to something secret, forbidden, indecent. The adversaries of such depiction of beauty made life miserable to many, but certainly could not suppress this art stream completely. In short the essence of the problem can be summed up in a thought of Michelangelo Buonarroti: What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?

4. Antiquity

          From the prehistoric times several instances of mainly female nudes have been discovered, but they were rather crude and cannot be compared to later nudes. The depiction of human body as a form of art reached its first culmination in the old Greece.

Myron: Discus thrower, a Roman copy (2nd century AD) of the original from the 5th century BCE.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, photo by Matthias Kabel, Glyptothek, München.

          The first nude was male, it was not from more affordable marble, but from bronze, it depicts an athlete, and athletes at the time competed undressed. The original is not preserved, but its existence was known from antique descriptions many years before 1781, before the discovery of this copy (one of many) in the yard of the Villa Palombara in Rome.
          Female nudes, in painting as well as in sculpture, appeared a century later, in the time of Alexander the Great. The most famous painter from antiquity, Apelles from the island of Kos painted Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene). For these nudes two names are commonly used, but it was always goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite in Greece and Venus in the old Rome. The painting was later seized by the Roman emperor Augustus who took it to Rome, where it was lost in the whirlwind of time. But the painting was often copied

Aphrodite Anadyomene / Aphrodite rising from the sea, Pompeii, before 79 AD.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, photo by Stephen Haynes.

and, thanks to the otherwise fatal eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD, the motif survived - in a part of a Pompeii fresco. Writings of Pliny the Elder contain a very vivid description of the Apelles painting. It helped later, especially renaissance artists to make their reincarnations of the motif.

          Statues from antiquity fared better than paintings, it was more difficult to crush every single bit of them. The first instance of a nude life-size statue

A Roman copy of the Greek statue by Praxiteles: Aphrodite of Knidos, 4th century BCE.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, photo by Vitold Muratov, Glyptothek, München.

is from the 4th century BCE. The statue was not preserved, the above photo shows a Roman copy to which a missing head was made and attached in modern time. The story about the origin of the statue is especially interesting. People from the island Kos commissioned the most known sculptor of the time, Praxiteles, to make a sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite. The commission was very important so he made two statues of the goddess, a dressed and an undressed one. When the customers saw the two, they were appalled by the undressed and bought the dressed one; about this statue history has nothing more to say. The undressed one was seen by the inhabitants of the city of Knidos and they immediately purchased it. On the coast they built a special open temple for the statue so that it could be looked at from all sides. The statue became quickly so famous that people from near and far were coming to see it. When the city happened to come deeply in debt, Nicomedes II, the king of Bithynia, offered to pay all the city debts in exchange for the statue. But his offer was refused, so valuable it was for the city. Later the statue has been copied many times and parts of Roman copies have been preserved. This work of art had a strong influence to sculpture of classicism and neoclassicism of the 19th century.

Alexandros of Antioch: Venus de Milo, 2nd century BCE.
Source: Wikipedia, photo by Matt Girling, Louvre, Paris.

Of one of the later Greek depictions of Aphrodite, from the island of Milos, the major part was preserved, save the hands. The fact that we have the original statue, not only a Roman copy, and a beautiful one at that, makes Venus de Milo especially precious.

5. Renaissance

          Antiquity, where the most important activity in the field of art was on the Greek side, was followed by the Middle Ages. In Europe it was the time of complete domination of an institution which handled both the art and the science more by crook than by hook and ... it meant a millennium of silence in art, not to mention the nudes.

Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus, 1486.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Google Art Project.

          But after the rain, the sun always shines and the renaissance brought a great revival of antique art. A splendid example is the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. It is important for cave related art because it contains a wealth of color nuances also found in caves, from white and beige to orange and brown.

Peter Paul Rubens: The Three Graces, 1635.
Source: Wikipedia, photo by Shui Shou Yue, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

          At about the same time another bright star arose on the artistic sky, the Flemish painting school, Dutch golden era, which developed painting to at the time unsurpassed heights, sensitivity and pure beauty. The majesty of forms and colors also spilled in the field of nudes and The Three Graces by Rubens just radiate with splendor.
          They have developed the handling of light and dark (licht-donker, chiaro-scuro) to perfection and, based on such paintings as Travelers Awaiting a Ferry by Philips Wouwerman in 1649, one can only guess what all would we get had mother nature endowed the Dutch plain with a nice limestone hill or two, full of caves.

Michelangelo Buonarroti: David, 1501 - 1504.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, photo by Marcus Obal, Galleria dell'Accademia, Firenze.

          In Florence, Italy renaissance left some extraordinary masterpieces and Michelangelo showed in a very genuine way what can be done from a large piece of Carrara marble - the statue measures 515 x 190 x 115 cm. When he was finally commissioned to make the statue the stone was lying in the yard of the cathedral for almost 40 years already and it had evident traces of two failed sculpture projects.

6. From neoclassicism to WWI

          Antique influences continued to prevail even after the renaissance and reached a culmination in the neoclassicism of the 19th century. Sculpture examples are

Bertel Thorvaldsen: Venus with Apple, 1806.
Source: Wikipedia, photo by Serge Ottaviani, Louvre-Lens, Pas-de-Calais.

Venus with Apple by the Danish master Thorvaldsen, and even more his Three Graces. On world top lists of the best nudes of all time, compiled by art critics, this trio is regularly placed quite close to the top, in the company of Michelangelo's David.

Bertel Thorvaldsen: The Three Graces and Cupid, 1817 - 19.
Source: Wikipedia, photo by Yair Haklai, Thorvaldsens Museum, Københaven.


James Pradier: Les Trois Graces, 1831.
Source: Wikipedia, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

          In nudes usually just a single person was depicted, or it was a the central motif of the artwork. Rarely a nude covered a small group of persons, such as the Three Graces. But it was only a question of time when some artist would strive for more splendor, would create a work with more models. Selection of the scene is in this case however more difficult, to make the work convincing the author had to resort to some water-related activity; people in history always used to bath undressed.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: Le Bain Turc, 1863.
Source: Wikipedia, C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition.

          The honor went to French painter Ingres, the work depicts a scene from the Turkish harem. Unfortunately the author changed the format of the painting from square to round a few years after the creation and so deprived us of continuations in both lower corners of the image.
          The theme of the birth of Venus was also not exhausted yet. Probably the best example is the picture below, painted by Bouguereau for the Paris Salon of 1879. It was awarded the Grand Prix de Rome, to a great dismay of his adversaries, the impressionists.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau: The Birth of Venus, 1879.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, photo by Max Shimasu, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

          In 19th century painting did not flourish only in the Old Continent, a lot was happening also in the New World. In the field of nudes great work was done by Thomas Eakins (1844 - 1916), who dealt with this theme for several decades and also made quite a few studies of movement.

Thomas Eakins: Swimming, 1885.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

          The painting Swimming is now considered to be one of the masterpieces of North American fine arts, and is at the same time one of the rare group male nudes. It was based on a study, a photograph of his students from the academy.
          A similar, but photographically not covered scene took place in September 2011 in the cave Čolniči / Small Boats near Cerkniško jezero lake, Slovenia. An unexpected rise in the water level surprised a party, consisting of DZRJL cavers, members of DLKJ (The Križna jama cave Society) and guests. The trail to the Great Hall was no longer passable and so the cavers were faced with a tough choice - either to turn back or to swim across a small lake, in cold, though not freezing-cold water. Quite a few of them decided for a swim and some of it can be seen at 0' 58'' of this short film.

Thomas Eakins: Nude Study.
Source: Bruce and Bobbie Johnson, Sterling, Virginia,

          Eakins also made several photo studies for oil paintings which he later could not (or did not dare to) make. One of them is the above photo, which was aimed, as many his other athletic studies, to artistically illustrate the human body power.

          Oncoming new movements, the most visible was the impressionism, brought an end to neoclassicism. Time has come when the reality chose to move away from the canvas and stone, the time of metamorphosis. At the beginning the metamorphosis was gentle, brush strokes just slightly stylized, as with impressionists and the Paris school.

Amedeo Modigliani: Nude in Red, 1917.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei.

          The above painting is one of seven nudes, painted by Modigliani in 1917 for his only solo exhibition. They were all made at the initiative of his galerist and friend Leopold Zborowsky from Poland, who provided the studio, canvases, brushes, the models, food and painter's fee for every day of work.

Paul Cézanne: Les Grandes Baigneuses, 1906.
Vir, Wikipedia, The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

          The above very lucrative scene was not painted by Ingres, he was no more, but by Cézanne. The composition is perfect, colors just as one could wish for, only the girls are already more in style of time, with the nearing apocalypse of the First World War.

Pablo Picasso: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907.
Source: Wikipedia, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

          The great Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso, certainly could not fall behind. He embarked on a similar motif, also as an answer to Joy of Life by Henri Matisse and one of the most important canvases of the 20th century was made. It in a certain way illustrates the horror of oncoming times, from the A-bomb to the cancer-Lyme disease mischief of today. Especially the portrait of the upper right prostitute could very well serve (according to DZRJL maverick Bajsi / Fatty) as a picture to be put on the cupboard so that the children would not dare to steal biscuits from it.

Marcel Duchamp: Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912.
Source: Wikipedia, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

          Things took their own course, and to recognize a woman descending a staircase in the above picture, not wearing a long dance dress, and that it is also not a case of multiple superimposed images, requires quite a lot of imagination. But it certainly cannot be denied that the picture has a very beautiful transition from tired sandy color to completely dark brown, with all the hues in between. The painting could serve as a good starting point for an abstract depiction of Stopnišče / Staircase tunnel in Najdena jama cave, painted with light.

7. Modernism and Postmodernism

          After the artistic big-bang at the end of 19th and in early 20th century it was (and is) no easy task to move on. Just as the great Flemish school left a great void after 17th century which lasts till today, it is difficult to assess how the art of 20th and early 21st century will be judged by posterior generations.

Pablo Picasso: Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, 1932.
Source: Wikipedia.

          Among Ten most expensive paintings, ever sold at auction (as of August 19, 2017) there are four by Pablo Picasso, and three are nudes - one by Modigliani and two by Picasso. One of the two is shown above, it belongs to the more eye-pleasing part of Picasso paintings, while one of the paintings in top 10 is a monochrome pop art piece. Just one buyer was brave enough to expose himself, Liu Yiqian, others preferred anonymity.
          Between the two wars there were some reflections of past times, for instance in the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka, typical of her work is the nude Adam and Eve (1932, private collection).
          Later on there were some examples of quite surprising paths to nude opera. Such is the case of 240 works, painted by Andrew Wyeth between 1971 and 1985.

Lucian Freud, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995.
Source: Wikipedia.

          Modern time has little contact with beauty as it was understood by former generations. An eloquent example is the above picture, painted by the grandson of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. The painter is also known for the very unflattering portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
          Lucian Freud (1922 - 2011) is certainly not the only representative of the new nude aesthetics. Members of the new generation, well known are for instance the works of English painter Jenny Saville (born 1970), continue in this direction. In her nude, appropriately titled Plan (1993) she enriched the picture with contour lines, as are present on topographic maps.
          In sculpture the works of Jeff Koons, ex-husband of Ilona Staller, with a stage name Cicciolina, are still very much in vogue. In 1990 he made a series of photographs, paintings and statues for the "Image World: Art and Media Culture" exhibition (Whitney Museum). The series was titled Made in Heaven, the models were Koons himself and Ilona and the content was more or less erotic. In the opinion of many his set design lifted kitsch to unsurpassed levels; an example is the painting in the technique of oil inks silkscreened on canvas titled Fingers between legs. Later on he devoted his talent mainly to inflatable structures, often made of tin, painted with metal colors and polished to high gloss. A recent example is the statue of the American singer Lady Gaga, 2013.

          The biggest boom in the area of nudes, especially in recent years, has come in photography. A proper overview of this field would require a major study, so let us illustrate it with just two outstanding examples.
          The first is, who else but the master Helmut Newton with his prophetically titled diptych Sie kommen / They are coming (Undressed and dressed), 1981.
          In the area of male and female beauty the works of Robert Mapplethorpe gained and kept a very remarkable place, especially in the depiction of vitality, the force of life.

Spencer Tunick: Nude Installation, Eastnor Castle, England, 8 August 2010, 11:11 a.m.
Source: Wikipedia.

          Nowadays fine art is not limited just to painting and sculpture, installations are becoming commonplace. Sometimes they are durable and can be kept in a gallery or in home, sometimes they are more instant, they last just a couple of minutes or hours. In the field of nudes a good example are the nude installations of Spencer Tunick, with several ten to several thousand models. Years ago the models, who apply for participation in these events simply over Internet, "just like that" or au naturel, while in recent years the artist, as can be seen in the above photo, started to color them.
          For confirmation of hope, that all is not lost in modern art, speak the paintings of several authors. One of them is the Cypriot painter George Kotsonis, who studied in Beijing and graduated in Prague. Two of his examples are Bathers and A Couple with a Horse, probably the gentlest contemporary nude painting.

8. Nudes in Slovenian Art

          Most of publicly accessible works of Slovenian artists of the past is gathered in the National gallery of Slovenia. The gallery keeps an Internet catalogue and in the folder Exhibitions, further down to Permanent Collection and to Slovenian Early Modernism we quickly find the impressionist painter Matej Sternen and his Nude from 1914.
          An anecdote is related to this particular nude, told to writer of these lines by Rok Vidmar from the Ljubljana University Computing Centre, where they both used to work. While in high school the class of Rok visited the National Gallery to see its Permanent Collection and when he returned home his father Josip Vidmar, between the two (world) wars one of the more prominent members of Ljubljana night life, asked what Rok liked best in the gallery. Without hesitation Rok answered that it was the nude in red. To which his father added that the model in real life did not look half as well as on the painting.
          Though it is a very small country, Slovenia has quite a few prominent contemporary painters. In the field of nudes Bogoslav Kalaš (1942) has a very special place. He was a longtime professor at the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts and Design where he held the courses Likovna anatomija / Anatomy for Artists and Prostorske zasnove / Spatial Concepts. He invented a painting technique, called aerography, where the acryllic colors are applied to canvas, layer after layer, through a machine driven airbrush. Kalaš's aerographic paintings give a realistic impression, but are softer, gentler, subtly distorted by artist's imagination - his aerography suits nude very well. A good example is Nude (1971) from the Kalaš's exhibition in 1971 which stunned both the writer of these lines and the public in general. The computer era was coming in full force, Ljubljana was in 1971 the host of the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) world congress, the author just started his first computer-generated graphics, lace-like patterns based on trigonometric functions, but that the milestone time will find such a charming echo in fine arts nobody could really expect.
          Very interesting is also Kalaš's reflection on beauty in modern art, published in the Slovenian weekly Mladina, on 23 April 2009: ... Beauty does not have the same validity it had in traditional arts, mostly it is not welcome at all. Artistic avant-gardes have developed the aesthetics of ugly ... which is well in line with the nudes of Freud and Saville.

9. Nude Types

          Before moving on to the chapter on cave nudes it could be a good idea to explain some nude classification terms. This classification is of great importance for implementation of nudes in underground environments.

9.1 Nudes (True Nudes)


Francisco Goya: Naked Beauty (La maja desnuda), around 1797.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

          Nudes as the above example, painted on canvas at the end of 18th century by the famous Aragon artist, are nudes which are at best described with This is it." No masquerading, no hypocrisy, no hiding, if I am a nude I am a nude and not a still life with fruit and flowers. Goya was in trouble after this painting - a pinch of hair in the (im)proper place disturbed the Spanish Inquisition (without that hair the image would pass without problems, as even nowadays in Japan) and he was summoned for an interrogation. What he was asked and how he answered is not known, anyhow he was spared burning on the stake (slightly out of vogue at the time) but lost a lucrative job at the Spanish court.

9.2 Semi-nudes

Egon Schiele: Semi-nude Reclining, around 1917.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

          Semi-nudes usually depict just the upper part of the body as is the case in the above Schiele painting, or are rarely nudes where a certain part of the body (it is clear which) is covered by a piece of cloth, a scarf or hidden in some other way.
          Semi-nudes are now common, the upper part of the female body is no longer such taboo as it used to be and in United States there is a Topfreedom movement for the equality of genders to be topless in public.
          In recent years it was also proved, especially in the case of an Easter Island movie titled Rapa Nui, filmed in 1994, that for Hollywood tanned breasts are much more acceptable than white. More on the subject was written by Roger Ebert - his thought that female breasts are the most aesthetically pleasing part of the human anatomy is especially precious.

9.3 Implied Nudes

Nude with Cat on a Chair, 2012.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr.

          Implied nudes are nudes, where the angle of view is selected so that (before all) the crotch is not visible, or the body is positioned in such a manner that the crotch is out of sight again, for instance by putting a leg over another, view from the side of the covering leg. These are "like" nudes with a motto: It is all undressed, but again nothing can be seen and so everything is OK. In recent years the behind, just as the upper part of the body, became acceptable and practically all so-called charity calendars (rowing, fire brigade or housewife calendars - click to View gallery) are of this kind, with implied nudes.

9.4 Landscape Nudes

Bruno Wiese: A Female Nude Bathing in a Classical Landscape, 1930.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, photography from the auction catalogue at Christie's.

          Landscape nudes or Nudes in landscape are nudes, where the model is part of a landscape entity, such as a forest grove or a clearing or even landscape at large. This change in ratio of the figure size versus the picture size further dilutes and alleviates the "horror of the true believers" when they are faced with an undressed human figure. The viewer is also not certain what to look at, the landscape itself or the nude in it. The latter is because of the distance anyhow not well visible, the painter did not have much room to paint it.
          In caves it sometimes happens that an interesting arbor, tunnel profile, a distinct stalagmite or flowstone heap itself leads to a better composition with inclusion of the nude in the entire scene, to a good landscape nude. Such instances are but rare and one must keep well in mind underwater photo contests from years ago. One of the contest rules always referred to the fish size: Fish size must not be less than 20 % of the picture size - or the photo will be discarded. Some entrants just could not come close enough to the fish and were forced to make pictures from afar. So the contest jury would have, without this rule, a problem to determine whether the distant object in the picture is a fish or something else.

9.5 Painted Nudes / Body Painting

Female Nude Painted with Australian Flag, 2005.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr.

          Besides flanking maneuvres such as implied and landscape nudes in recent years painted nudes or body painting are also increasingly popular. As with nudes it is possible to distinguish real painted nudes and, more often, painted semi-nudes, where the paint is applied over the underwear (not in the above painted nude). Special food colors are used which are, as opposed to usual painting colors, much less toxic and can be washed away reasonably fast.
          One of the elder members of DZRJL, Marko Modic, has certain experience in this field. Back in 1981 at Levernaka island in the Kornati archipelago he painted his beloved, undressed, with just one color, vivid green, over the entire body save the face. She stepped into the calm sea, up to her knees, he added two or three green apples (Granny Smith variety) in front of her and made a photo, good enough to be published, full page, in one of the prestigious magazines. Her name was Alenka, she loved him very much, for over two years.
          Painted nude, with images of various fruit, was the subject of Fructal, a Slovenian fruit juice company, calendar. It was just one picture, poster sized, for all the months, on cardboard. The year I do not remember, on internet it was not to be found, but I remember that the calendar was, in many shops and other places, kept on the wall years after it has lost its calendar role.

9.6 Combinations

Edward Poynter: Cave of the Storm Nymphs, 1903.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Private collection.

          In the depiction of nudes, as could be seen very well at the housewife charity calendar, the authors use a combination of several approaches to bring the viewer thirsty across the water. Most often is an implied nude, placed at a distance as a landscape nude. The above painting is a good example - there is a near landscape, cave entrance, three figures in the role of implied nudes, strategically positioned so that the viewer can admire all the beautiful transitions of hues from light to dark on tanned bodies, but nothing more. The splendor and opulence of the motif is highlighted by the sinking boat in the background, as well as its treasures which the three nymphs have discovered in the cave - coins are flying in the air, gold trickles from the chest at right.

10. Cave Nudes

          Caves are a rather special part of human environment, not really common and so have a weaker echo in the art as other natural milieus such as mountains, the sea or scenes from everyday life. But as caves are mysterious, picturesque and the supposed connection to the world beyond (entrance to Hades) artists did not completely neglect them.

Franz Kurz zum Thurn und Goldenstein: Tkalca jama cave in Rakov Škocjan, Slovenia, middle of the 19th century.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Narodni muzej, Ljubljana.

          With a little imagination the first cave nude, a landscape group nude to be precise, could be attributed to John Wyatt Valvasor in his epochal monograph from 1689. It depicts a scene from the Rov starih podpisov / The Tunnel of Old Inscriptions in Postojnska jama cave. The flowstone concretions, stalagmites and stalactites were of similar color and transparency as the human skin and so the shift to this metaphor was easy to come by.

Janez Vajkard Valvasor, Postojnska jama cave (From The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, 1689).
Source: Wikimedia Commons, photo by Janez Drilc.

          17th century was certainly the time when underground spaces were generally believed to be the Satan's residence, even DZRJL members of hundred years ago had to face such superstition, and this belief certainly influenced Valvasor's engraving. If the bodies are more or less human the heads are devilish, as if the masters Fellini and Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut) would cut their fantasies completely loose.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1808.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Louvre, Paris.

          Classical painting of the golden age, the 19th century, does not offer many cave motifs and even less cave nudes, but here and there an example can be found. Cave environment was always somehow mystical, it adds tension and splendor, as is the case with the above painting by Ingres.
          Several contemporary art photographers also tackled the topic of cave nudes. A good example is Ryan McGinley with his first solo exhibition Moonmilk in the London gallery Alison Jacques in 2009; it attracted a lot of attention. Works exhibited were mostly landscape cave nudes, often with colored light sources. They are interesting, but still feel somewhat distant. In the lot there is a nice semi-nude in orange (India), while Jonas and Marcel Blue Altar feels sad, as if they were about to start crying. It is really difficult to withstand this cold and wetness without proper clothing.

          Besides the cave nudes of Richard Forster, mentioned in the introduction, recent time also brought two calendars with scenes of cave and body beauty.
          In 2007 Jamarsko društvo Železničar / Railway Caving Club Ljubljana published a 2008 calendar with motifs from seven Slovenian caves. Peter Gedei, a renowned Slovenian cave photographer, shot the 12 published photos in half a year. Unfortunately he removed all related pictorial material from the web and so all that is left are two cropped calendar pictures, published on the website, very likely without his consent. An article titled For Eros on the Walls / Where Have all the Original Calendars Gone? was written by a nude-and-porn expert Max Modic. He is known as the director of the third Slovenian high-budget hardcore movie Gremo mi po svojo / Let's Go Get Our Own (Pussy) in 2012. Max Modic lived to his reputation and two charming, very non-hardcore Gedei's photographs are accompanied in the article by two naive-art porn paintings from the 2004 "Planting Calendar" by Tatjana Plahuta.
          While shooting the calendar pictures Gedei certainly did not have a free rein, all the models, half male, half female, were his caving buddies from the club. To make the idea at all viable he had to limit himself to implied landscape nudes. The concept was set in advance and could not be changed during the implementation.

Peter Gedei: A scene from Mitjina jama cave, 2007.

          The picture is a partially cropped photo from the calendar. It is a good example, very much in style with other photos. Cave motif is carefully selected and elaborately illuminated. Without the just mentioned limits it could be a very handsome cave nude, now it is, to a great extent, being rescued by the smile of the model.
          She is not of a slim build, but nevertheless a beautiful woman. In contrast to today's skinny models, where the look of the consequences of prolonged starvation really hurts, she is just enough opulent and it adds a special charm to the picture. Unfortunately the nude had to be implied and so Gedei covered the confluence of all the views with the thigh of the other leg. This body part is but heavy and shows the model, to put it mildly, in much less flattering light than would be the case of a straight nude. Similar can be said for both aesthetically most pleasing parts of the body, her are beautifully shaped but here we can only admire one, the other is hidden by the braid. About the (un)suitability of the helmet a few lines are written in the next chapter, but we have to praise Gedei for omitting the boots. Maybe he did it to protect the delicate flowstone in the picture, more likely it was done because boots would definitely ruin this nude. Other photos are practically all with boots, including the second Gedei's nude published on the site (it is actually a small part, 10 % or so, of a very handsome cave landscape). Female legs are beautiful and the longer the better. Boots take away a quarter of the legs or even more and are of a great disadvantage to the nude.
          To draw a line below the above observations - regarding the restrictions he faced Gedei did a great work. Calendar, aimed at the strengthening of the club's finances, was sold out. The author has only 2 or 3 copies left. So the decision was made in 2014 by his grotto, JKŽ, to make another nude calendar in the near future. It would be in the same, well proven style. Gedei is not afraid of the cold, all shots are first made with a dressed model, quick undressing follows, the final shot is made, and the model is immediately re-dressed.

          English cave nude calendar for 2013 was shot by Laura Brown, helped by two members of the Westminster Speleological Group. It was half a year of work in 2012, on location in several English and French caves. The size is A3, the price 10 pounds plus postage, all profits went to South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team and Yorkshire's Cave Rescue Organization, the calendar is sold out. Photos are mostly even more of landscape art if compared to Gedei's calendar, but it is not always a disadvantage. Especially the last picture in the above linked report of Daily Mail, in green, is just splendid, really Tarzan-like, the figures at the side are just for the decoration and measure. The calendar was very well received and it shows that such works are now commonplace, and are not considered problematic any more.

11. Author's Experience

          It would probably be very difficult to find a keen photographer, prepared to delve a little deeper into the subject, who would not, sooner or later, think of nudes. This statement is valid especially for the members of one of the two genders.
          I vividly remember the photo, taken by Anton Pečan, father of an acquaintance Lučka (pron. Loochka) Uršič, more known in sailing circles, but a good friend of DZRJL member Arne Hodalič, a distinguished photographer and author of the best pictures of the Slovenian national animal, the cave olm or Proteus anguinus. Pečan's picture was taken at the pebble beach of the Sava river, the model was his beloved, later also Lučka's mother, in thick woolen bathing suit, such as was common at the time, in the years just before WWII. In the picture, which would of course be much better as a nude, all the photographer's affection to the model is clearly felt and it is also evident how much she enjoyed his attention. But as it even now happens to most of those behind the viewfinder, Anton was afraid to ask her for a nude. His question and her eventual refusal would inevitably spoil the magic of the riverbank moments. The times were, however, in many ways much tighter from now and so the photo just could not be undressed.

Anton Pečan: Roža (Rose), my girl, Sava river beach, August 1931.

          In 1953 the first issue of Playboy magazine was published, with dressed Marilyn Monroe on cover and a few of her (implied) nudes inside. It paved the way to real nudes, and the way was not short. 18 years later, in the January 1971 issue, a report on Liv Lindeland from the country of fjords was published, including her nude centerfold. It was sort of shy but still more real nude than something else. Wider availability of Internet after 2000 brought general accessibility of nudes, but otherwise the times have not changed, the subject is delicate as ever. Fear of consequences is still very much alive, as it was in 1797 when Francisco Goya painted the Naked Beauty and lost his job. The only difference now is just that the fear of consequences has shifted from the photographer to the (unprofessional) model. There are certain factors that are more aggravating than others, for instance if the model works in public administration or if the parents are strongly religious. Sometimes even relatively innocent scenes are too much. During the shooting of the feature caving movie White Pussy Cat Cave in 2005 on location in Mačkovica cave, the shooting script included a scene which proved problematic. The path through undiscovered parts of the cave brings the cast of four cavers, three boys and a girl, unexpectedly on an old trail, quite close to the entrance. Everybody is happy and the girl, Metka, should spontaneously, out of joy, embrace Janko, one of the boys, and kiss him, just on his cheek. And the scene had to be removed because Metka was afraid of the reaction of her boyfriend. The destiny however has its own paths, often ironic, and so the boyfriend left Metka long before the movie was finished. Not because of it. Just that Metka could not know this at the time ...
          To make the long story short, the writer of these lines had limited experience with nudes many years ago, in accordance with facts from the previous paragraph and with modest opportunities. After 2000 the era of digital photography came in full swing, with all the benefits it brought to cave photography where traditional photography was usually just guesswork, and it coincided with the author's conclusion that the life is not infinite and that such wonderful opportunity is not to be missed. After a longer time of only occasional cave photography he again devoted most of his free time to this difficult but rewarding field. It resulted in several cave photo exhibitions, often with pictures where models were dressed in unconventional caving suits.

Primož Jakopin: Scene from the Svetišče / Temple in Putikova dvorana / Putick's Hall of Najdena jama Cave, May 2004.

          A little earlier, also in 2004, came an opportunity to make the first cave nude. The author was well aware that the chances to publish any such work are, for the reasons of protecting both the model and himself, next to impossible yet the desire to open the new horizons was simply too big to bend and give up.

Primož Jakopin: Nude. Solarized photograph, Jezerina cave, December 2005.

          If nothing else the experience has been accumulating slowly. That the implied nude detour makes little sense was clear right at the beginning. The first photo also showed that the helmet and light on the head of the model do the motif more harm than good. Which is even more valid for the boots. Michelangelo's saying, once already written here: What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed? are not just empty words. There must be special circumstances present to justify the use of footwear. In a few months it was also evident that landscape nudes are rarely successful, most often in unusual conditions such as is an extraordinary, picturesque cave profile which complements the nude well. Several problems, connected to cave nude photography, also came to light.
          The worst problem is the cold, and it is a very serious one. The approach, used at the 2008 Railway caving club calendar: a dressed rehearsing shot, followed by a quick undressed shot, and back to the caving suit, is not always appropriate. It turns out that the ideal illumination, the right combination of light and dark which shows the model in a most flattering manner, requires some testing. Planned few seconds quickly evolve into not just a few minutes, time runs as mad, and the cold is ruthless. Insulated bottle with hot tea can help, so do a lighted gas cooker on the floor and the rubber hot water bottle. But at best it is to work in caves in the vicinity of a warm sea, in Dalmatia for instance, where the temperature is, like everywhere else in caves, equal to the annual outside average. In the Mediterranean caves this average is 18 degrees Celsius, in tropical caves several degrees more, in Slovenian lowland caves from 8 to 10 degrees C, in alpine caves just above zero, at about 2 degrees C.
          Another problem is the cave pollution. In a very attractive Podpeška jama cave (easy access) the lower levels of the cave are contaminated with the village sewage. The bad odor is barely noticeable, but people (especially the model) have a good chance of later health problems because of air-transmitted infectious germs.
          Some problems were caused by the lack of team. For a good illumination three flashes (on tripods) are usually required, one from one direction, second from the other side, to soften the shadows, one from behind, for the highlights, and often the fourth flash on camera, to trigger the other three. The first shot shows that one (or more) flash has to be moved, or its setting changed. What all takes time, and time in the cold knows no mercy. The photographer is forced to work in a hurry. But hurrying is a godfather of carelessness, one is very likely to stumble on the uneven cave floor, to kick some tripod leg and if the photographer ends up unhurt, at least some flash will get broken.
          A lot also depends on the model. Even the slight discontent on the face can turn the picture from a top and delightfully beautiful into a useless one. Here is also the place to mention a factor that some will discard as unimportant, but is not. In the case that all the basic prerequisites for a good nude are met, certain features of the model are also important. Besides the face and its eyes, the mirror of the soul, the convergence point of all the picture views and its haircut are not to be underestimated.


In the above set four of the standard mustache styles are shown, from clean shaven to natural, they are also common in the pubic hair trimming. It is not difficult to guess which is the most appropriate for the cave nudes.
          Another issue which depends on the time of the year's four seasons and which is due to partially dressed sun bathing, are the tan lines.

In the winter they are (almost) gone, if the model did not decide to break the winter by some vacation in the tropics, but at the end of the summer and in the autumn tan lines can be quite annoying, they remind one of painted nudes. These lines can be masked by instant fake tanning creams, which but only last a few days.

12. Conclusion

          In the paper the trail winded through the picturesque and rich landscape of this evergreen topic. Nudes are a very grateful motive, in the field of art they reach quite at the heart of beauty depiction, comparable to the meaning of life problem in philosophy. On the other hand the topic is utterly delicate. Human eye is a very accurate and merciless judge, and if it can observe the light of a candle in the dark at a distance of 20 kilometers, it is also capable to quickly determine if the nude is on the correct side of the line that separates an artistic experience from attempts at erotic depiction on the calendar pages in the car repair workshops. The line is very thin, and as with poetry, where it takes the perfect harmony of contents and form to get a Shakespeare, cave nudes immensely benefit to cave nude if the scene makes sense. As had been the case with Apelles and his Aphrodite, a good cave nude is most easily achieved in a water setting, preferably in a sea cave.
          And to present all the beauty and achievements, collected over time? Though there are many opponents to this opinion, the calendar still seems to be the best solution. Every photo is viewed for a month, and if some happens to grow close to viewer's heart, it can remain on the wall after its month has expired.
          If some caving buddy with a talent for free hand stroke drawing could be located, the beauty of the photography could be replaced by the low-entropy elegance of an artistic image such as the nude Two Figures (A. Chubar, 2004). And in case of emergence of an Inkscape virtuoso a cave nude calendar with compositions like Molly (author unknown, also 2004) could also be a very welcome refreshment of the calendar scene.
          The idea of the author of these lines, presented in June 2014 to the audience of his native grotto, DZRJL, to make a nude cave calendar for 2015, was put aside. The modalities around it, somehow turbid water took so long to clear up that the train left the station, that it was too late. Only a substitute calendar managed to jump on the last wagon - it depicts members of DZRJL, male and female, in full caving gear on various locations in Najdena jama cave. The shelving of the 2015 nude cave calendar also happened to Peter Gedei, the author of the first such Slovenian calendar (2008).
          To cut the long story short, at the end of 2014 the country of the classical karst, of the most visited cave in the world and the many kilometer-plus deep shafts on Mt. Kanin barely missed another unexpected underground marvel, not one, but two cave nude calendars. But the story is most likely not finished. This contribution might provoke some other Carniolian master of painting with light, and the two protagonists from the past paragraph also did not throw in the towel yet ...

Page written and posted by Primož Jakopin; send inquiries and comments to primoz jakopin guest arnes si (insert dots and at sign as appropriate). Page first published on June 22, 2014, minor changes May 12, 2015, August 20, 2017, June 2, 2019, October 9, 2020, January 4, 2021.