Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 4 The Renaissance Period

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In 1622, Marie of Medici was crown Queen of France and commissioned 24 painting from the painter Rubens to decorate her new palace. Its a series of big oil paintings, representing different important scenes from the queen’s life. Each is elaborate and very detailed, with allegorical and mythological additions. The aim is to glorify the Queen and her rule, but each piece reflects the golden age of classicism.

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Here is a good example of what I meant. We can clearly see the queen at the center of the piece as the main focal point, in light clothing to contrast with the other characters. But surrounding the queen are figures from Greek and Roman mythology, such as Naiads and sea nymphs, but also cherubs and angels. The renaissance period was a revival of all the old myths. The ancients also provided artistic instruction as artists copied and studied their works, compositions and anatomical studies. I also found it interesting that the pagan characters are always naked or very little dressed, whereas the proper ladies of society are shown in full regalia. It certainly makes for an interesting contrast.

DSCN1930Again, portraits of ladies and noble women are all dressed in fine garbs with jewels and accessories This shows Rubens wife and son painted around 1640, showing the elegance and refinement of their status.

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We have a portrait of an Italian Noble woman, painted by Antoon Van Dyck around the same period. I loved the attire and complicated gown. I think this models the saying “One of the best ways that status can is conveyed is through impracticality.”

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The Classical artists were fascinated with myths, collecting them and digging through to seek out the raw materials of creation. The female forms here are voluptuous and round, miles away from the ideal of beauty in our generation, of stick thin skeletal models. But at the same time, the dressed women of this same period are wearing corsets and dresses that curve their forms to the extreme to have narrow waists. (Rembrandt, 1654 Bathsheba holding David’s letter)

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This contrast is fascinating to me. The differences between the ideal of the naked women and the ideal of the “clothed” women. (A mortal catching a glimpse of sleeping Venus)

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The classical artists were also fascinated by allegories and personifications. Something probably inspired from the Romans. The female body becomes a means, not only is it an object of beauty but it represents something more than that. The game of symbolism hunting is quite  fun also, trying to understand why the artists picked certain objects or creatures as metaphor and symbols. (Religion destroying Heresy, Jean Hardy 1653)

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Union of Painting and Sculpture,  Jacques Burette,1677

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Allegory of Spring, Pierre LeGros 1629. I love these allegories, showing how the artist would envision how the person incarnating Spring would look. It’s part of a series of four (obviously) each woman holding attributes of each season.

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This sculpture was interesting, portraying an actual person dressed as the goddess Juno. It’s like a reversed allegory. An actual person representing a concept, an immaterial goddess. (Marie Leaszczuncka as Juno, Guillaume Coustou 1677)

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This photo might seem a little strange. But I visited the “Conciergerie”, the prison where Marie-Antoinette spent the last few months of her life before being executed by the new regime. This photo is a restoration of her cell (with added mannequins). And I felt like this was an interesting perspective on the theme of this project. Here is the place where one of the most famous, frivolous women in world history spent her last few days, in austere conditions, having lost everything.

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