Throughout art history, different artists’ such as Tiziano Vecelli (Titian), Édouard Manet, Yasumasa Morimura or a group of artists such as Guerrilla Girls created female nudes laden down with much symbolism, values and beliefs of the culture that has produced it, which either appealed to the norm of their time period and society, or provoked arguments and disapproval. Often these cultural values are upheld in the image of the nude, such as Titian’s work “Venus of Urbino”, but sometimes, especially since Modernist times, the nude has been a battleground between conservative values and progressive ideals. The representations of their values differ depending on the time it was produced due to the fact that society continually changes; Representation and different purposes of the artwork include feminism, the male gaze, gender identity, commercialism and symbolism of beauty through the painting of nude female goddess’. In chronological order, ‘Venus of Urbino’ by Titian portrays the Greek goddess Venus, showing beauty and femininity; ‘Olympia’ by Manet angering the audience as the nude figure was exposing a real person; ‘Portrait (Futago)’ by Morimura appropriating Manet’s ‘Olympia’ and Guerilla Girls shining light on gender inequality in the art world.
Titian, an Italian Renaissance painter, born approximately in 1490 lived in a male-dominated, religious world which shaped his values and attitude that were represented in his paintings. Religion was used as a common tool to make paintings more attractive to the viewers of that time; female gods were objectified and produced onto a canvas to appease the male audience. The nude female form was painted realistically to satisfy society’s view of ‘beauty’ in art but not portraying a real person. In Titian’s oil painting, “Venus of Urbino (Reclining Venus),” derived from a work by Giorgione, the Sleeping Venus, depicts Venus, the goddess of love lying peacefully in a sleeping chamber at the foreground. She stares directly at the viewer sensually as if she desires something; the painting is an exercise in female eroticism. The contrast between her warm body colours and the dark background starkly accentuating her sensuality. Her unconditional honesty translates into a kind of incorrupt innocence. This painting was completed in 1538 for the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere and was intended to serve as a reminder of marital obligations to Giulia Varano’s (Duke’s wife) represented in the roses, dog, maid and myrtle. Titian’s painting grew his fame as many adored it, “the sun amidst small stars not only among the Italians but all the painters of the world”-art theorist Giovanni Lomazzo n.d. ‘Venus of Urbino’ inspired Manet to paint ‘Olympia’ which received a very different reaction.
French painter, Manet, 23 January 1832–30 April 1883 was pivotal in the transition from Realism to Impressionism and one of the first to paint modern life. Manet recontextualizes the “Venus of Urbino”...