O tempora o mores!

When I came up with an idea of Manolo lines resembling the celebrated images from the history of art,  Ingre’s nudes weren’t the first thing that  popped up in mind at once.  At first it was just an archetypical nude woman from the classically themed European paintings. Searching for the one with her soles beautifully exposed I scanned numerous of classical nudes and read up on a couple of seminal works considered beacons of change in our sensual perception  that moved the history of art to the next level or rather signified that the move had taken place.

On a side track I kept thinking just what all these people living 30, 100 and 500 years ago felt while looking at those paintings. Why Titian’s Venus and Manet’s Olympia seemed so scandalous to them.  Looking for the perceptional clues I recalled  Helmut Newton’s photo of Daryl Hannah published in the May issue  of 1984 Vogue, a contemporary example of the outrage elicited by the Titian and Manet. For a moment all three  seemed to blend naturally  into a collage and the artistic inspirations that made   Newton, Titian and Manet push the envelope  became  aligned.

what in the image  of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) innocent to us scandalized the viewer of the sixteenth century?  Obviously not the nudity as by that time the Renaissance was already in full bloom with its resplendent nudes. Titian based his heroine on Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (1510) who was already nude alright. But the sleeping Venus of Giorgione is placed on the backdrop of a landscape, which carries an allegorical meaning and provides for divine, unattainable nature of her nudity.
Titian moved his Venus indoors thus making her a mere mortal. The presence of other people, two servants in the background make her bareness even more embarrassing and perhaps for some viewers of the 16-th century plain tacky or outrageous. Think of it as Kate Moss – in her transparent tunic in the dimmed lights and camera flashes at a Metro Party compared to the view of – girls-next-door- types repeating the same in the hand reach distance of the mundane environment of – say – London.

What’s more, Giorgione’s Venus is sleeping, seemingly unaware of the gaze of the viewer. The Venus of Titian engages with us despite her intimate sartorial condition. She is aware and therefore bold.

Skipping several centuries and jumping straight to Manet’s Olympia. Now what? Just what haven’t the enlightened eighteenth century viewer seen yet for Olympia to stir such an uproar?

“When other artists correct nature by painting Venus they lie. Manet asked himself why he should lie. Why not tell the truth?” Émile Zola

  • Compare the gazes: the gentle, dear-like eyes of the Venice of Urbino to the confrontational, self-assured look of Olympia.
  • The Venus of Urbino emerges unadorned, in her reclusive setting; the burden of looking is on us. Olympia is fully accessorized indicating that she is actually prepared to host someone. The painting is the celebration of the oldest profession.
  • Manet replaced a sleeping dog, a symbol of fidelity with the black cat, a symbol of mischief today and prostitution – three centuries ago.

There are more interesting details that help to  read the paintings and are sure to keep you busy for a good couple of hours.

And here comes  Newton’s Daryl Hannah, who  isn’t even nude strictly speaking,  but gone is the black cat and it ain’t servants inhabiting the background (and the forefront)

“….My romantic notion of what America is, or should be, like…” Helmut Newton

The shot caused the spate of angry letters and cancelled subscriptions in the US Bible Belt. I do not generally share the US Bible Belt sentiments – I’m all too aware of, having lived in Missouri for a year while attending universtiy (incidentally the most miserable year of my life).  But I must tell you that even today, more than thirty years after this picture was published when I put my comparative analysis endeavors aside  I personally   find it disturbing and the least romantic of all.

I guess emotionally I am closer to a progressive 16th century viewer.

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About Natalie Laurel

I drive stick shift. In San Francisco.
This entry was posted in Pictorial Precedence. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to O tempora o mores!

  1. Malica Dee says:

    I think that in the last case it’s not bare skin, it’s obvious neglect of the baby.

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