Visual Art Essay - The Body
Analyse how artworks represent and document cultural histories
Renowned art curator and critic David Elliot states “art reflects our time, it is about our culture.” By studying throughout time artist’s material and conceptual practice it is clear how artworks represent and document cultural histories. These practices are affected by the culture at the world of the time. The oxford dictionary defines culture as “The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”. Artworks like ‘Venus of Urbino’, ‘Olympia’ and ‘Portrait (Futago)’ are direct products of time and place. The artists who created these works, Titian, Manet and Yasumasa Morimura were heavily influenced by their society and context. Thus, cultural histories are represented and documented through artworks.
The Renaissance period involved a revival and rebirth of cultural awareness and learning. It took place during the 14th Century and 15th Century in Italy. Artist’s paintings and sculptures reflected a culture focused on religion and Greek mythology. Artists like Botticelli and Titian became heavily interested in the female form and in particular the female nude. Artist began to capture the sexuality and temptation of the female figure. This is illustrated in many of Titians paintings including ‘Diana and Actaen’ 1559, ‘Sacred and Profane Love’ 1514 and ‘Venus of Urbino’ 1538.
The oil on canvas Renaissance painting, Venus of Urbino, 1538 by Titan represents the cultural history of the Renaissance period. This is seen through his use of Academic conventions in his material practice. Throughout the composition of the painting Titian highlights the cultural expectation of artists in the Renaissance period. As seen in Figure 1 Titian has employed the technique of glazing on Venus’ body. This technical mastery involves applying thin layers of oil paint to give the painting richness in colour and light. Thus, creating a glow and softness to Venus’ body adding to the sexual temptation she renders. Dr. Beth Harris from the Khan Academy agrees, “Mostly the sexuality I think emerges because of the incredible softness that we sense from the paint.” Titan’s positioning of Venus reclined along the foreground and her innocent body language in the painting adds to the suggestion of sexuality and lust. Titian’s use of perspective through the traditional technique, ‘view through a window’ draws the viewer into scene and successfully engaged the male gaze. Through the use of lustrous colour, exact detail, rendering of tone and depth Titian has achieved the goal of representing the idealised, voluptuous Renaissance woman.
Titian’s conceptual practice reflects the cultural history of the Renaissance period though the exploration of Greek mythology. The commissioned artwork for the Duke of Urbino, Guidobaldo II Della Rovere was a gift from the Duke to his young wife as a lesson on how to be a good wife. As can be seen in Figure 1 the dog at the feet of the Venus is a symbol of marital fidelity while, in the background, the housemaid looking down at the young girl represents motherhood. Painters of the Renaissance period where heavily influenced by Greek Mythology and created works for various patrons. As can been seen in Figure 1, the title of the painting illustrates this with Venus being the Greek goddess of love and beauty. This again links to the idea of desire and sexuality of the painting. Many of Titians paintings had didactic functions, for example in his works ‘Diana and Actaen’, ‘Sacred and Profane Love’ the function is reflecting his audiences interest in Greek historical stories. Whereas in Venus of Urbino the didactic function is one of voyeurism and fulfilling the obligations of marriage. These types of images in the Renaissance period were painted for male audiences and the male gaze. Women in the Renaissance era were objects to be desired, thus explaining the reason why Titian has...
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