Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In the Eyes of the Beholder

Continuation of chapter 3

As we have explored throughout this chapter the development of the nude woman in paintings, we further dwell into how the nude is seen as a subject by the viewer and herself. The women portrayed in the images of this chapter beginning with Eve, from the biblical Adam and Eve story in Genesis, are aware of their viewer. This creates a sense of need to control their presence, expression and placement in order to convey to the viewer the painter’s intention.  For Eve it is her nakedness that makes her aware that the viewer is looking at her and thus determines her presence of shame. This presence is depicted by the painter but determined by the story from which Eve’s nude body is first introduced, it is meant to represent her shame of being exposed. Moving onto the women made subjects, such as Susannah being watched as she bathes by the men at her window, the message changes and the nudity of Susannah does not have the same implications as that of Eve. She no longer has the same expression as Eve did because she knows she is being watched and her presence is calculated to respond to her viewer. This response from the naked woman determines how she wishes to be viewed by the viewer and what purpose her nakedness serves. This nudity is no longer only dealing with artwork but it is delving into the lived sexuality that entices the painter, subject and viewer to observe the nude.  

The Toilet of Venus, Diego Velasquez
                For example at first glance it seems Venus is aloof to the fact that she is naked and is not sexually inviting. Her posture is relaxed and her presence is elegant. She is turned away from the painter and the viewer is unable to see the expression on her face. Only looking at this part of the painting it is close to irrelevant why she is naked. There is no gleam in her eye like that of the girls looking straight into the camera with the purpose of drawing in their viewer but a superiority in Venus’s posture to represent her comfort being in the nude. Observing further we find a mirror held up by a cherub into which Venus is looking at herself. This painting is now letting the viewer know that Venus, although still superior, knows she is nude and being watched because she is looking at herself. Her naked presence remains relaxed and artistic because her posture and elegance are not meant to arouse the viewer, but admire the beauty and simplicity of her body in its most basic form.  There is however the always present factor of her body being seen as an object. This is done through the mirror that has her recognizing she is being watched, she therefore knows she is being watched because she sees her viewer through the same mirror she sees herself. This is not specific to Venus in this painting but to the representation of women throughout artwork. Their presence is determined by if they are being watched or not and therefore makes them hyperconscious to their appearance.

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