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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Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 2 Ancient World II

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This large mosaic is entitled “Amazonmachie”, which in French means massacre of the Amazons, (the same suffix is used to describe bull fighting). The violence of this piece caught my attention.

The story of the Amazons is quite sad, strong, independent women, ultimately subdued by men. The details and colors of this piece made it all the more memorable. (Turkey, 400 ce)

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I wanted to include as many different mediums as I could also, just to show the diversity of the female figure in different Art forms. Here is a bas-relief, showing a Greek hero, Heracles welcoming the personifications of Charity, Hospitality and Generosity. The details of the women’s attire caught my attention with this piece. Sadly, empty studs in the stone showed tantalizing signs of more elaborate ornamentations (jewelry and embellishments) that we can only guess at today. (Island of Thasos, 480 bce)

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Here we have another glimpse at  funerary steles. This time in the Egyptian culture. What struck me here was the way both figures, man and wife, are placed on the same level as equals, gently embracing for eternity. There is no superiority of one over the other, regardless of what the situation was in life, in death, they are equals. This was a surprisingly reoccurring theme.

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Scribe Ounsou and his wife, Imenhetep, 1450 bce

Ancient Rome

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The beauty of this sculpture struck me. It’s a two tone marble and bronze statue of Artemis, the Huntress. I loved how they incorporated the marbling of the stone into the folds of her clothes and the striking black and white contrasting materials.

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This marble sculpture of one of Apollo’s muses is a Roman copy of a Greek piece, created in the second century c.e. However, in the 18th century, a fanciful restoration, added the comedy mask and caused an ongoing commotion about the true subject matter of this piece.

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Here is another roman re-creation of an original Greek statue, reconstructed from fragments. The Romans took the pose and features of this character but adapted her to suit their needs, placing her in a different tale of mythology altogether. In Greece, she was Diane, and in Rome, she became Atalante, one of Ovid’s metamorphoses. But her dynamic posture caught my eyes, she seems ready to come to life at any second and run right past us.

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200 c.e. restored in the 18th century.

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This was the most impressive marble statue I saw in the Louvre. The presentation and location are the perfect backdrop for this monumental 10 foot tall statue of Athena (Pallas of Velletri). Her face is stern and her features almost masculine, shown as a figure of strength and victory. This is a Roman reconstruction from the 2nd century. The original Greek statue was a ten foot bronze of the goddess, this piece was apparently recreated from plaster molds of the Greek original, a piece that was never found.

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Facing the Pallas Athena, is a long hall, filled with statues and busts of the goddess Athena/Minerva, showing her in different poses and dress.

DSCN1599You guessed it, more funerary steles. I was rather surprised to find one more example of this reoccurring theme in Roman culture. It was a surprise to see the similarities in each of these Mediterranean civilizations. Once more, we have the couple, man and wife, side by side, seated as equals, together, facing the afterlife. I think it is an important reminder of the position of the woman in the family structure, not as inferior, but as a partner.  And it would seem that each culture added their own touch to this idea.

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Stele of Zabdibol and Haggai, Syria 240 c.e.

Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 1 Ancient World I

During my Paris vacation, I had a lot of fun simply absorbing the atmosphere and being surrounded by art and beautiful things to look at. I wasn’t quite sure how to approach this topic. Women have been a major theme and inspiration in every aspect of art and creation since the dawn of human kind. This topic is rather vast and I didn’t want to do something bland or impersonal. So I decided to go on a “Treasure Hunt” of sorts through the city and different museums to simply record the different women I would encounter, photographing the ones that struck me or spoke to me. And this is how I hope this project will be read, as simply an exploration, a walk through the figures that captured my attention. Enjoy!
(I tried to be as thorough as possible, but some pictures are blurry and some dates are missing, but I still wanted to include the image nevertheless because of its beauty or uniqueness.)

The Ancient World

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This ancient sculpture was apparently the stereotype of the female form, made  around 6000 bce, this was one of the oldest I found.  She has a generous, curvy figure  sign of abundance and is comfortably seated with her legs crossed.

Etruscan/Cyclades figures

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This figures date back to 2,700 bce from the Island of Keros. We saw similar things in our book, the stylized, recognizable but impersonal figures of these women. They all have the same poses. The museum also mentioned finding very slight paint residue on the Marble faces of these anonymous women.

The Mediterranean Basin in Ancient Times

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This funerary stele was moving to me. I saw a lot of funerary art during my couple trips to the Louvre, and it should be a topic on it’s own. These grave markers are a snapshot of past lives, and I found it touching to find this couple, husband and wife, carved in stone side by side for eternity, or at least, as long as the stone would last. Testament to this ancient love. (130-140 C.E. Lebanon)

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These figures were magical talismans, promoting protection or healing. They fascinated me since they represented Egyptian, Greek and Semitic deities but in outrageous, caricatural and crude forms. These little figures were meant to attract the anger of supernatural forces being mocked, in order to distract them from plighting the owners instead.DSCN1271

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These intricate female heads caught my eye. They were meant to be bodiless, representing a Greek ritual of sacrificing locks of hair. Little wonder since each and every one has an elaborate and carefully fashioned hair style. Most of these were found in burials, and are assumed to represent the sacrifice of loved ones to insure the safety of the passing soul. They are an appeal and a prayer to female, mother-like deities such as Isis and Aphrodite. (Found in Egypt and dating back to the 2-3rd century c.e.)

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This third century bronze embodies a culture much different from ours, where female goddesses were praised, worshiped and depended upon. Here we have a statue, blending the features of Isis and Aphrodite, showing a Mother figure with gentle curves, open arms and a soft smile. The Isis-Aphrodite cult was quite important in the ancient world and spread from Africa to England, all the way up the Middle East, showing a passion and love for the female aspect of the divine.

When God was a Girl

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When God was a Girl Bbc Documentary

I watched this documentary last night and found it extremely interesting. It talks about the very beginnings of religions, and how the female aspects of the divine were highly emphasized. It was intriguing to watch since mainstream western religions are so focused on a masculine macho deity. The ancient people recognized the goddess as a strong figure. Females were the givers of life, a creator force. The mother goddess was responsible for the fertility of the land as well as a protector.

What was even more intriguing was the duality found in female deities throughout. They are signs of fertility, birth and protection but also have strong powers over the realms of the dead. This was true in ancient near east cultures, the greeks and romans and even the modern day form of hinduism. The goddess is to be revered, besearched and feared. She is not one to be trifled with.
This was explained by the low survival rate of children. In antiquity, they estimate half of the children died at birth or shortly after. Adding a new dimension to the powers of the mother and the female deities.

This aspect made her especially appealing to the romans. This was surprising to me, since roman society was so bent on masculinity, virility and warfare. And yet in their time of need they turned to a fearsome goddess to protect them.

Then of course, the documentary speaks of how christianity began to take over and the female goddesses became blasphemous and demonic.

This is a series of three. I am greatly anticipating watching the next couple parts.

So take a peek at this series and let me know what you think.

(Once again, Youtube removed this documentary. Copyright is the Bane of my existence…)