Race, Gender, and art history
Edouard Manet, Olympia 1865
May 11, 2013
Edouard Manet’s painting of Olympia, 1865 was one of the most scandalous paintings of its time. In this painting, a woman lies naked on a bed with a black servant in the shadows. The servant stands at her feet bearing a bouquet of flowers to show Olympia. It is also noted in this painting that Olympia is wearing one slipper and the other is slightly off to the side of her other foot perhaps indicating that she wasn’t expecting company. There is also a black cat at the foot of the bed that appears frightened. It wasn’t the image of a naked woman that enraged the public it was the woman’s anatomical position that infuriated so many at this time in history and what it may have represented. The name Olympia was synonymous with high class prostitutes or courtesans in Paris in the 1860s. Manet’s painting of Olympia is often compared to Venous of Urbino (1538) by Titian. It is said that Manet was inspired by Titian’s painting in which Venous takes on a softer sensual persona. In Titian’s painting Venous tilts her head to the side and looks softly at the viewer while in contrast Olympia’s head is lifted off of the pillow and is looking directly at the viewer with her head and eyes facing forward. It is the opinion of many that Olympia, a prostitute, possess strong qualities about her like sexual dominance and independence which was quite appalling to public viewers. Olympia’s hand positioning is of great importance as well. In Titian’s painting Venous’ hand is subtly covering her gentiles while Olympia’s hand is strong guarding her gentiles with her fingers spread apart in resemblance of a spider according to critics. Some believe this is meaningful because Olympia is refusing to allow herself to be seen without payment, again commanding control. The pets in these paintings adds to the stories about these women as well. In...
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