The term “beauty” is painfully elusive, and throughout the generations, it has been used to define men and women of vastly diverse bodies. Centuries before Barbie and the mid-20th century rise of the slender, small waisted ideal, there were 15th century masters like Peter Paul Rubens, who celebrated softer, rounded curves with his sensually-charged paintings. With Unadorned, German photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten returns to this image, capturing fuller figured models as they embrace their nude bodies despite societal pressures that exclude them from an often oppressive standard of thinness.
Inspired by humanist masters like Titian and Rubens, Fullerton-Batten paints a stunning portrait of self-actualization. Her models, in their nakedness, dwarf the space around them; reclining on tables and lounging on a heap of books, they resemble resplendent deities. Their bodies are foreshortened as they curl and stretch, and their breasts and torsos are exaggerated, seen as objects of desire. As with Titian’s Vanity, jewels are seen reflected in a mirror, admired by a woman whose body we in turn admire.
Unadorned is strewn fruits and flowers, each bursting with color and imagined flavor. Fullerton-Batten’s models occupy this fertile space, and the plant life wilts, as if overcome by the heat of atmosphere and bodies. Like the gods of abundance in Rubens’s Vertumne et Pomone, they lay amongst the ruddy ripeness, in utter harmony with nature. Here, Fullerton-Batten works against the plethora of images that shame fuller figures; as beauty ideals are in continuous flux, we might pause for a moment, look back, and celebrate the vitality of every human body.