An Examination of the Pre 20th Century Female Nude Painted by Men

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An Examination of the

 Pre 20th Century Female Nude Painted by Men

Through my own study of art, I have found myself consistently drawn towards works and artists based around life and natural forms but perhaps most fundamentally the human form. Although at first I mostly based my own work around portraiture and later hands, it was through this study that I became much more fascinated by life drawings and the meanings behind them; what they portray to the viewer and by whom they were painted. The female nude stood out far more than the male nude, due to the controversy which it created and the question of its acceptance. Looking back to the 15th century when the female nude first made its mark in history; I wanted to explore what influence it had on society, similarly what influence society had on it.

     To many, the female nude is one of the most notorious subjects in the art world. Its profound symbolism and depth has conjured inspiration for artists thriving in the modernistic world today, to back in the late fourteen hundreds when such focuses of attention were seemingly controversial and only beginning to make their debut. However through my own exploration of the female nude I feel they somewhat depict the status or role stereotypical to that of a child-bearing race in society. When seeking past the voluptuous curves, it became apparent that in fact so many paintings dominated by the female nude pre 20th century told a story, one giving clues to how conservative the period was and also, to me what I find more interesting, clues to whether it was painted by a male or female artist. In my own opinion, I feel it cannot be denied that there is a difference between the way in which women express the subject to the way in which males express the subject, however this only became obvious to  me once I began doing my own life drawings.

Possibly the most influential painting in the history of the female nude is Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus.’ It was the first female nude created which in itself issues it was great importance, but moreover I was struck by it’s portrayal of a story. I feel this painting illustrates the beauty of the female and simultaneously, it defines plainly a suggestion of how society accepted the female nude being used as a muse. To such a scholar as Medici to whom the painting was commissioned; it told the story of the Goddess Venus’s birth, as she ‘emerges from the sea upon a shell in accordance with the myth’ whereby such divine refinement accompanied her. At first glance the paintings exquisiteness cloaks the many imperfections Botticelli harboured when endeavouring to tell a story. In my opinion, Botticelli’s work signifies great importance of the female form but indicates a woman’s role is one of physical strength rather than mental. Almost immediately I was struck by the unusual length of the neck coupled with such an acute fall of the shoulders, combined with the

abnormal depiction of her arm which is far from the realism Leonardo da Vinci captured; another prosperous artist of the century. However, ironically this only adds to the beauty. The graceful lines and softness create harmony for such a delicates of the female form. Similarly the tâsh is almost unapparent resulting in the formation of fluid curves; which I in my own work tend to use as a subconscious reflection of fertility. On the other hand, this could purely be my own interpretation and in fact such ideas could perhaps not have entered Botticelli’s thoughts. The mere fact he was a male artist has many implications on his interpretation of the nude; moreover the female nude. The same fluid curves which define fertility to me, could suggest attraction to the artist and were in fact erotic.

     Furthermore, viewing the work now in the twenty first century compels me to have an opinion which would most probably be very different to the people viewing it when Botticelli created his portrayal of the female form. To the society viewing it at the time, the painting would be far more controversial and therefore interesting. Not only this, but also the heavy context of religion and mythology would have had more of a bearing on what the painting meant. The painting would have told more a of a story, and be more embarrassing whereas today, people except the female nude far more easily, and are able to understand the idea of fertility, and a woman’s meaning in the world.

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     Meanwhile, it isn’t merely the female nude itself that defines the delicates of the form. Moreover the backdrop which encases the focal point is representative of womanly assets. The ‘Horae’ Goddess of the seasons welcomes her with a flowery cloak. Stereotypically flowers often portray femininity as both their scent and appearance are dainty and what one could refer to as pretty. As an artist, exploring

other artists I have found more often than not, flowers integrated into a piece of work, automatically make a painting more friendly to the viewer. Nevertheless perhaps less evidently to the ...

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