One of the most highly acclaimed Italian painters of the Renaissance, Titian, is well known for his beautiful portrait of a reclining nude, Venus, for the duke of Urbino. Titians mastery of color and ability to please his patrons gave him great success in his practice as an artist. This particular painting has been a hot topic of discussion among art historians for many years and continues to have numerous interpretations. Aside from the title, there are a number of clues in this painting that suggest it is a portrait of Venus. The maids in the background and bedroom setting suggest high status and domestication. The red flowers in her hand represent love. The white sheet she lays on represents purity. And the dog curled up at the foot of the bed represents fidelity.
However, there is more to this painting than a beautiful image of Venus. Images such as this were popular in the Renaissance’s sophisticated court circles where men could enjoy these images under the guise of appreciating classical mythology. Venus of Urbino lends itself to this interpretation through its sexualized and provocative nature, not usually associated with Venus. For one, her relaxed, seductive pose and coy tilting of the head is inviting to the viewer. There is also a dark curtain behind her dividing the canvas and leading the eye to her hand, which is strategically placed to cover herself.
This is one interpretation of this work and as we study we always learn more.
The French painter, Manet, sometimes referred to as the father of modernism, was definitely ahead of his time and liked to stir things up in the art world. Titian’s Venus of Urbino inspired one of his most famous paintings, Olympia. However, the interpretation of this image caused quite a stir when it was presented at the 1865 Salon. For one, the technique used was extremely avant-garde for the traditional smoothly modeled taste of the academic French Salons. Olympia is painted mostly as an outline with very abrupt changes in color and a more raw, unfinished, preliminary appearance.
More shocking at the time, however, was the implication that Olympia was a prostitute. Unlike Titian’s Venus coy look, Olympia stares confidently with confrontation at the viewer. Instead of a loyal dog at her feet, there is a cat with its back arched. There is also an African-Caribbean woman with flowers instead of the maids. At that time, painting black women was another sexualized reference. But of course, Manet took the compositional cues from Titian as well, such as the curtain leading to her hand that covers her, but in a more assertive way than Venus’ relaxed pose.
Olympia was displayed in the last gallery over the door. After awful reviews from art critics, people attended to see this “offensive” piece of art.
Some effects on contemporary art…
This is the artist’s interpretation of Olympia as a woman of today.
Morimura is known for his appropriated images of Western art. He uses himself and costume, painting, cosmetics, and computer manipulation.