Friday, 26 March 2010
Hey You! Yes, you peeping through the keyhole. Yes, you, the guy masturbating in the peepshow booth, watching the lady dance her erotic tease.
And you, you, who thought you were safe looking at dirty pictures in secret, while your wife sips her tea; you’re not safe. And neither is the sophisticated gentleman cruising the National Gallery, pretending to look at the chiaroscuro and line in the masterpieces.
You’ve been spotted.
The naked females stare boldly back at you.
You’ve been caught out. You’ve been caught looking.
Your quest to fulfil your carnal desires has landed you in big trouble. Your desire to obtain knowledge of the female form cannot be obtained in any innocent way. In the vernacular, you are a Peeping Tom. To give you your polite name; you are a Voyeur. You are no better, no different to Tom, blinded for his crime of looking at his Lady, as she rode, naked, through the streets. Peeping Tom saw what was taboo; forbidden. So have you.
And girls, don’t think you’ve got away with it either; so wipe those smirks off your faces. That wonderful statue of David, by Michelangelo; did you know that David’s eyes follow you? He’s watching you, looking at his beautifully sculpted cock. He can see the lust in your eyes.
Goya painted the “Nude Maja” in 1800. She stares at the viewer, with an autocratic gaze. She refutes any suggestion that she is debauched; she flaunts her nakedness. The viewer is incidental; an anachronism. The Nude Maja does nothing to titillate; she is simply there. Naked. So what?
Without a pretence to allegorical or mythological meaning, the painting was "the first totally profane life-size female nude in Western art". Goya refused to paint clothes on her, and instead created a new painting of her clothed. The clothed Maja, eyeballs the viewer with her irritated stare.
The identity of the Majas are uncertain. The most popularly cited subjects are the Duchess of Alba, with whom Goya is thought to have had an affair, and the mistress of Manuel de Godoy, who subsequently owned the paintings. Neither theory has been verified, and it remains as likely that the paintings represent an idealized composite. In 1813, the Inquisition confiscated both works as 'obscene', returning them in 1836.
Le dejouner sur l‘herbe ("The Lunch on the Grass") is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet. Created in 1862 and 1863, its juxtaposition of a female nude with fully dressed men sparked controversy when the work was first exhibited at the Salon des Refusés. The piece is now in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. A smaller, earlier version can be seen at the Courtauld Gallery London.
The shock value of a woman, naked, casually lunching with two fully dressed men, was an affront to the propriety of the time. But the naked woman in the painting negates any suggestion of indecency. She simply doesn’t care, and that is perhaps what is so shocking. Like the Maja, she confronts the viewer with an expression that seems to find the viewers’ excitement, boring. It’s as if she’s saying; “Oh, do grow up.” Faced with that, the viewers’ lust is diminished.
Manet embarked on this canvas after being challenged to give the Salon a nude painting to display. (1863) The painting was controversial partly because the nude is wearing some small items of clothing such as an orchid in her hair, a bracelet, a ribbon around her neck, and mule slippers, all of which accentuated her nakedness; her comfortable courtesan lifestyle and sexuality. The orchid, upswept hair, black cat, and bouquet of flowers were all recognized symbols of sexuality at the time. This modern Venus' body is thin, counter to prevailing standards; the painting's lack of idealism rankled viewers who noticed it despite its placement, high on the wall of the Salon.
Manet’s Olympia stares out of the canvas at the viewer. No attempt at seduction, in her frankly, bored gaze. Manet has used the idea of the Classical pose and borrowed it from a much earlier work by Titian. “Venus of Urbino” (1538)
The women are posed in a similar fashion; relaxed, reclining. But Titian’s Venus is a seductress. She invites the viewer in. You can see it in her eyes and her full lips. Her plump mouth is suggestive of swollen labia lips; engorged and wet.
The viewer is on his way to being redeemed. This woman wants him.
The nudes discussed here, disconcert the viewer with their challenging stare. They have turned the tables on you; you are now the one on the receiving end of the gaze. Briefly, you crumble. You are shocked. Oh, you’ll get over it, but you’ll always remember that feeling of being found out; caught looking.