Saturday, March 11, 2006

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe: and now it's time for a little art history

No, I'm not becoming a Dean Esmay stalker, or tailgater, or whatever the expression might be, although today's post was sparked by one of Dean's, once again.

The subject? Female nudity in popular magazines: to wit, the following cover of Vanity Fair, and what it might mean about our society that this sort of thing is on the newsstands:

I happen to have been at the hairdresser's the other day, and while there I saw that very cover in the flesh, as it were. What struck me was the photo's resemblance, in theme although not composition, to the Manet painting "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe" (probably an excellent indication that I'm both a very dull old person, and not a man).

Here's Manet's painting, which I studied back in college. In English, it's entitled "Luncheon (or Picnic) on the Grass:"

The Manet was shocking in its time, and I think it remains somewhat shocking even today (more so, in a way, than the magazine cover). From the time I first saw it as a young teenager, it has puzzled and mystified me, and apparently I'm not alone.

In the Vanity Fair photo, Scarlett Johansson (the woman lying down) seems to sport a similar expression to the lady on the left of the painting; she gazes at the viewer with cool and utter aplomb. The man in the photo resembles the one on the left of the painting as well, even the shape of his beard and the cut of his slightly nipped-in jacket (although, in the interest of formality, the man in the Manet has kept his tie on, even though the group is outdoors, whereas the magazine man is showing us his chest).

The woman in the painting's background, in the flowing diaphonous togalike gown, always reminded me of another figure from my youth, the White Rock girl who appeared on the bottles of soda stored in our basement, gazing like Narcissus at her reflection in some small pond.

But what was this all about--surely not selling ginger ale, like Ms. White Rock?

In Manet's painting, the woman on the left has taken off her clothing, which lies in disarray on the ground to her left, amidst some spilled fruit. The men, however, are fully clothed. Nor does anyone seem the least bit surprised, or even engaged by the situation. In the photo, the man is clearly amorous (or meant to be); in Manet, the men are talking to each other.

It's not totally clear what Manet meant by the painting, but it is clear he was calling on certain traditional and conventional artistic subjects (female nudes, still lifes) and turning them on their head by modernizing them (something like the Vanity Fair cover, perhaps).

It's well-known that Manet was referring back to earlier works of art such as this Giorgione entitled "Fête champêtre" (Pastoral Concert):

In Giorgione's work from the early 1500s, the nudes are not only weightier than Manet's, but more classical:

The female figures in the foreground are the Muses of poetry, their nakedness reveals their divine being. The standing figure pouring water from a glass jar represents the superior tragic poetry, while the seated one holding a flute is the Muse of the less prestigious comedy or pastoral poetry. The well-dressed youth who is playing a lute is the poet of exalted lyricism, while the bareheaded one is an ordinary lyricist.

So we have poetry and lyricism, made manifest as naked women and clothed men with lutes. Here we also see, perhaps, the origins of the diaphanous toga of Manet's woman-in-the background--and even, perhaps, the White Rock girl of my youth. But Manet has stripped (to coin a phrase) the scene of all its pretense to culture, and that was what was so shocking.

Manet did not set out to shock, though. His actual aim seems to have been to paint modernity. But shock he did. The painting:

...did not bring Manet laurels and accolades. It brought criticism. Critics found Dejuener to be anti-academic and politically suspect and the ensuing fire storm surrounding this painting has made Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe a benchmark in academic discussions of modern art. The nude in Manet's painting was no nymph, or mythological being...she was a modern Parisian women cast into a contemporary setting with two clothed man. Many found this to be quite vulgar and begged the question "Who's for lunch?" The critics also had much to say about Manet's technical abilities. His harsh frontal lighting and elimination of mid tones rocked ideas of traditional academic training. And yet, it is also important to understand that not everyone criticized Manet, for it was also Dejeuner which set the stage for the advent of Impressionism.
...Manet was not a radical artist, such as Courbet; nor was he a bohemian, as the critics had thought. Recently married to Suzanne Leenhoff, the well mannered and well bred Manet was an immaculately groomed member of high society.

And here's a similar thought, although it seems to have been translated by Babelfish:

Manet, who had an ambition of bourgeois success, will suffer all his life time that his painting, carried out by a great artistic intuition, would only deserve him sulfurous notoriety, but no official recognition.

The painting remains mysterious and ambiguous. But much is known about the identities of Manet's models:

In reality, all of the figures are based on living identifiable people in Manet's life. The seated nude was Victiorne Meurand (Manets' favorite model at the time) and the gentlemen were his brother Eugéne (with cane) and his brother-in-law, the sculpter Ferdinand Leenhof. Manet loved women and in his works, he usually leaves the men's faces blurred or undefined, their individuality blurred in rhetoric, as dismissible as the "others" in the background. Always one to try to keep within the lines of "accepted" art since he was a semi-important member of society, hence, he left the men clothed....Edouard Manet, himself declared that the chief actor in the painting is the light. The public and critics, guardians of public taste saw only a sketch without the customary "finish."

Manet also addresses the power of the artist to create reality. The one man's hand is pointing towards the woman and he is paraphrasing Michelangelo's "God Creates Man" fresco. He is saying the artist creates reality in the same way that God does. This is the major lesson of Impressionism. Reinterpreted, Manet again says , 'God created man, but the artist creates Woman' and may well be the the reason for the candor of model Victorine Meurent's knowing (yet somehow alienated) gaze. Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, a manifesto of modern painting, has always proven problematic when it comes to critical and historical interpretation. At the time of its succes de scandale at the Salon des Refusés, one critic admitted that he searched "in vain for the meaning" of it. Since that time, various readings have been suggested, none of them definitive. . . The furious outcry it caused as the principal exhibit among the Salon rejects was based on this indecency. One holistic critic, doubtless voicing his own opinion, said,

A commoplace woman of demimonde, as naked as can be, shamelessly lolls between two dandies dressed to the teeth. These latter look like schoolboys on a holiday, perpetuating an outrage to play the man. . . . . This is a young man's practical joke--a shameful, open sore.

The passage above contains a possible answer to the question of why the men are clothed: depicting the male nude was considered more scandalous. Perhaps this is still true. But I doubt it's the only reason for the difference.

So, here we have an interesting trajectory: from Giorgione's allegory in which the sexuality is a subtext, although still present; through Manet's shocking modernized grouping that refers back to those earlier nudes, but shorn of any pretense of classicism except as a facile reference point. Then, on to the modern photo that is sold on newsstands and overtly meant to titillate, and which has only a vague and very hidden reference to its predecessors. But to me, all three works stand in an unbroken line, and even the last refers all the way back to the first.


At 1:13 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

So we have poetry and lyricism, made manifest as naked women and clothed men with lutes. Here we also see, perhaps, the origins of the diaphanous toga of Manet's woman-in-the background--and even, perhaps, the White Rock girl of my youth. But Manet has stripped (to coin a phrase) the scene of all its pretense to culture, and that was what was so shocking.

my head hurts. Military science is easier to understand than this.

Many found this to be quite vulgar and begged the question "Who's for lunch?"

That's hilarious. The Parisians and their cutting remarks, better than the Enlighs ton for that matter.

ow you could talk about the lighting, but I'm more interested in the body images and beauty between the ages. Which is always interesting to see.


At 2:12 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

I did flash on the Manet when I saw the VF cover, I think in general our history in terms of art, culture, literature and music is so deep that such connections will appear to the student, whether they were meant to or not.

I don't really think the rationalizations for why the women are nude and the men not are really convincing. Naked women are more fun to look at than naked men, at least, to straight men, while women do not appear to find nude males all that much fun to look at.

I realize this is terribly unfair, but, if we as a society want to change it, maybe we should start passing some really strict laws.

At 2:24 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

I know I shouldn't post follow ups so quickly, but I disagree with the statement that "In the photo, the man is clearly amorous (or meant to be)." I think he's just trying to figure out how much child support he'll be able to afford.

At 2:55 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

They must have airbrushed the skin, because the women look like marble statues, except with lifelike faces.

Senescent, are you refering to my top paragraph or my last paragraph with your quote?

At 3:45 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger gcotharn said...

Intriguing observation. Duality of woman. In the Manet, the robed woman represents the same sensibility as the Czech woman in 1967. She was perturbed with her nephew for not picking her figs whilst tanks rolled in the streets. The robed woman is in bright light, possibly representing how sensibilities of the day feel different from sensibilities of the night.

The nude woman is supported by a section of lush and dark forest, and all that implies.

Keira Knightly and Scarlett Johannson could easily be modern representations of the Manet's robed and nude women. In the expanded Vanity Fair photo, Ms. Johannson certainly looks like a woodland nymph come to life, or like a muse. Ms. Knightly looks harsher, and more severe. It's interesting that Ms. Knightly seems impervious to the affections of the man in the photo. One senses Ms. Johannson's character would not be so cool and dismissive. Instead of being concerned with picking from Manet's meadow, or with picking figs from the garden, Ms. Knightly's character might be concerned with the responsibilities of her professional career. She doesn't give off a "pick from the meadow" type of vibe.

When I saw the expanded Vanity Fair photo for the first time, I was struck by how it reminds of a decoration on a box of luxurious ladies' bath powder, circa about 1935. It feels as though we could lift the top off the expanded photo, and remove an extravagantly dusted puff. I think the Manet, or it's predecessor, would've been good candidates to decorate such a box of bath powder. This must've contributed to my instinct about the Vanity Fair photo.

Enjoyable post.

At 4:12 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger gcotharn said...

Two corrections:

not "Czech woman", but Kundera's mother.

not "figs", but pears.

Thank you.

At 4:37 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger gcotharn said...


Not "Kundera's mother", but Karel's mother!

I'm bailing before I discover further miscues!

At 5:26 PM, March 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Manet's nude had her cloths on, she would be merely an at-ease woman glancing at a passing stranger, a woman that a pre-'60s man might enjoy talking with. That she should look so comfortable with her situation is the incongruity that catches one's attention.

Vanitiy Fair's nudes merely have that stylized, snotty-snobbish, "cool" pose that has been popular in New York this past generation, and most commonly disguises shallowness, ignorance or stupidity, sometimes true bitchiness in real people; the man,s expression is fittingly the currently appropriate male version of that cool look. No wonder there are so many one-night stands and short "relationships" for our unhappy youth.

What intrigues me more is that a "neo" neocon should do exactly what a survivor of an earlier disenchantment would predict: an at-depth, fully complete, well-written, detailed intellectual analysis that fully exposes an excellent education, well-used. But verging on tiresome. Also reminiscent of one's children in High School debate.

I neither have any interest in who Manet's background figure, diaphonously robed, is, nor do I give a damn. Sure would like to have met the foreground lady when I was much younger, but I wonder if I could have taken advantage?

At 6:27 PM, March 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fairness, neither Keira nor Scarlett (at least not in this photo), nor the nudes Giorgone nor Manet would excite comment. On the other hand, I always thought Manet's Olympia was kind of hot. She exuded the right mix of character and bitchiness I find appealing.

Interestingly, there is a version of Olympia that might excite a comment or two from neo-conservatives.

At 8:00 PM, March 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the history of ice cream to the justices and injustices of child support to an insightful analysis of "Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe," all in just a few days -- what a blog!!

At 8:18 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger Tom Grey said...

My third thought, after this excellent post, was of the woman's expression. Like Jane Fonda's Klute prostitute, and the bored expression on her face as a John takes his pleasure of her body.

My second thought was of the 3-love post I wanted to write to Andrew Sullivan, who last week or so had a nice little love post. I would discuss love of body (=lust), love of soul (=soul mate companion), and love of future in a sacred creation. Like the love of God the Creator, an act of love-creation gays can't share as normal married couples can. (our 4th child is already 6 months old!) With the love-creation being the marriage of half the man's genes with half the woman's genes, in a new DNA life.

My first thought was that this Art post was, in fact, part III of "Men's Rights". Where women are elevated to be equal with men in sexual liberation, and yet remain available to be seen as sexual objects.

The "first profession" trade is still valid: men give love to get sex; women give sex to get love. [Though today women seem to be getting, instead of love, offers for lots more sex.]

I don't quite think the expression is the snotty-snob, though it's close. Klute again, Brightlightsfilm describes 1971 Jane: "Bree has channeled her talent, quite successfully, into performative-based prostitution, which she finds thrilling in the moment and deadening afterwards. Bree is unable to find joy in the power she wields over her johns; she’s too hung up on her past. After servicing one client superbly, Bree sits alone smoking a joint and suddenly starts to sing a familiar church hymn. The lingering effects of early puritanism stifle Bree’s fulfillment; her guilt numbs her. Her deepest hope is to be “faceless and bodiless ... and be left alone.” She is clearly on the road to suicide."

A Western Civ that allows legal abortion, the killing of an innocent human fetus because of the inconvenience -- such a Civ would be on the road to suicide.

Luckily, the Roe effect is starting to have some impact, and the 44 mil. aborted fetuses, the vast majority of which come from mothers who support legal abortion, will lead to and ARE leading to a demographic change of greater pro-life density. Ever higher percentages of children come from pro-life families.

In Europe, many such Muslim pro-lifers are far far less tolerant and more fundamentalist than the "fundies" the US Leftists love to demonize & ridicule {no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!).

Demographics is destiny -- and vice versa.

At 10:33 PM, March 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Manet always struck me as a violent break with the past. It represents something like a behind the scenes painting of the artist's studio, the artist with his models nude, i.e., a kind of postmodern work where the making of the work is its subject.

I've been staring at the VF cover for a few weeks now, in the rack in our upstairs toilet, where my wife keeps all her mags. The skin color (white), pure nakedness as well as the slightly Rubenesque presentation of Johanssen all seem to be an opposing distancing from the usual representation of reality.

What I really like is the way VF undercuts its pretenses to serious (that is, anti-Bush) political discussion by putting porn as it knows it on its cover every month. It's what you'd expect from someone as intelligent as Graydon Carter. I say this as someone who read Playboy only for its commentary...

At 11:42 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger Laura Brown said...

What if the naked women were mannequins instead of real women? What difference would that make to you? If mannequins could be given human expression they could be substituted for women. Women could go off and do real things like have a career, babies, etc while mean can waste time gawking and sniffing mannequins. The real question is... would they notice she wasn't real? If she was pretty enough, they might not care.

At 12:37 AM, March 12, 2006, Blogger camojack said...

(Heh, heh...)

At 2:56 AM, March 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura, the answer to your questions is yes. If you are not pretty men do not care about you. They don't care if you can think or are a companion in any sense. The function at a different level that you are above. They don't care about anything outside of football and war. If they had the option they would rather go drink with their friends or go to war rather than spend time with you.

At 2:00 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Jamie Irons said...


The male nudity question is an interesting one.

As a commenter above noted, from the straight male perspective, male figures, even very "beautiful" ones, don't attract much interest. But then one thinks of some classical Greek sculpture, where the beauty is evident even to the (hopelessly doltish, like me) red-blooded American male.

Perhaps everything comes down to the grace and intention of the artist, and in our present situation, we are simply unfortunate in that we lack a Phidias.

Footnote to Laura: I may have misunderstood your intention (you may simply have been kidding us males), but you sound as though you are bitter about the fact that men are hopelessly, slavishly addicted to stunning female beauty. I invite you to change your stance, if that is the case, as it is this addiction which has kept the human race going for lo these million plus years.

I speak as one lucky enough (I emphasize the luck part) to be married to a stunningly beautiful woman, summa cum laude Stanford graduate, who is a physician high in management of the nation's largest health care organization and who has given birth to and has raised with me our four engineer sons.

Jamie Irons

At 2:06 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Jamie Irons said...

Who the heck is Tom Ford, anyway?

Some sort of Hollywood ex-wrestler movie star?

In this picture, he kind of looks like "The Rock."

(I'm kidding, of course, but still...)


Jamie Irons

At 3:25 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger flenser said...


I think that question is the interesting one here. You do get the sense that no place or time in history has been so fascinated with images of attractive (often naked) women as our own. To some extent modern technology is at play here in making this kind of thing more accessible.

But it does seem notable that Europeans from classical times through the Renaissance did not have the same viewpoint. And as we are aware these days, large parts of the world still take exception to our current, I guess you could say, fetishization of the female form. Heck, even the feminists used to be against it.

My dictionary defines a fetish as " An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence", and also as "An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers."

Images of beautiful women in our culture seem to fill some sort of quasi-spiritual need. A college professor of mine once opined that beautiful women would literally save the world.

I suppose one could theorize that this has something to do with the decline in formal religion, and a veneration of the human body. But it does seem to exist concurrently with an outright distaste for similar male imagery, at least in "artistic" circles.

None of which is to deny that most artists are just interested in getting a woman to take her clothes off.

At 3:49 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

My dictionary defines a fetish as " An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence", and also as "An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers."

Men have always worshipped female beauty, it arouses men and ensures the mystery of rebirth. I don't think it's an accident that the archetypal focus on breasts is both procreative in inspiration and also nurturing for new life.

Venus of Willendorf
I think sets the record straight on this.

Images of beautiful women in our culture seem to fill some sort of quasi-spiritual need. A college professor of mine once opined that beautiful women would literally save the world.

In the same way that the graffiti above a men's urinal, "You hold the future in your hands" is apt. Not all of us may be good-looking, fecund, or interested in sex, but those that are are clearly doing something absolutely necessary for the continuance of the human race.

My own theory is that sex has become more blatant as an unconscious reaction to the imbalance between sex and childbirth in our culture in recent decades. Maybe not.

At 4:35 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger gcotharn said...

My own theory is that sex has become more blatant, partly, as an unconscious reaction to the lack of classical religious and philosophic values in our lives. People use sex as a way to seek happiness. They substitute it for religious and philosophical principles and beliefs. The 60's humanists believed the ancient Greeks and the religious and the WWII generation were all fools. They rejected everything thought before they were born, and began figuring everything newly, as if history and anthropology did not exist. Sex is part of what of they grasped onto, along with crystals, pyramid power, Scientology, and whatever else they could desperately cling to through the cold and lonely nights. I've been there myself. For me: without God, nothing makes sense.

At 6:11 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Jamie Irons said...

In responding (yet again!) to Laura's comment, and to Flenser's comment on the fetishization of the female form, I invite everyone to look at this rather remarkable site (requires Flash 8):

Jamie Irons

At 7:59 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger flenser said...


Men have always worshipped female beauty..

I don't think that is true, at least not in the sense we are discussng here. Clearly men and women have always been interested in attractive members of the opposite sex, but that is distinct from the kind of veneration I'm talking about, which seems to have begun in Europe sometime in the late Middle Ages, and at first appeared as Marian devotion. For the most part, people were too busy trying to survive to worry about finding the perfectly shaped nose.

The Venus figure you mention, along with the (in)famous sheila-na-gigs, are fertility symbols, similar to the great many phallic symbols which have survived from the same period. Nobody could mistake the picture at the top of this post for anything like this.

The striking thing about the modern woman fetish is that it is divorced from procreation, and even in many cases from any sexual activity at all. Many of those who revere beautiful women are women themselves.

I think your theory is also undermined by the fact that much of the non-Western world does not share our fetish. I share in this fetish (or is it addiction?), but it strikes me as obvious that in world historical terms we are the odd ones out. And I womder what it says about us.

At 8:31 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

Flens: I think you are right, in part. I got to the part about "perfectly shaped noses" and realized we are talking about completely different things.

I am not sure what the "Venus of Willenberg" is about. If it is a fertility goddess -- which it might be -- then I still see it as a veneration of female beauty as such. But again we may be looking at this from different perspectives.

Also, I have always considered Marian devotion a facet of ennobled motherhood. I don't know if this can be proved one way or the other.

Then you comment The striking thing about the modern woman fetish is that it is divorced from procreation, and even in many cases from any sexual activity at all. I would think a woman's beauty is directly related to her presumed receptiveness to advances, and the extent to which the impetus to make such advances is visually aroused by her beauty. Again, I think we are talking about different things.

Finally, I think your theory is also undermined by the fact that much of the non-Western world does not share our fetish, to which my response is, what are their birth rates?

Female nudity goes in cycles, all you have to do is think of such bare-breasted periods as Ancient Crete Minoan, and 17th Century Restoration. My theory is that nudity is an unconscious attempt to inspire sexual activity in a similar unconscious attempt to inspire baby-making. But, again, I'm just guessing.

On the other hand, the "fetish" of female figures you describe, and which both men and women admire, seems to me something altogether different, but I do think it is not an attempt to "rediscover the sacred" in the feminine form.

But anyway .... best regards.

At 10:12 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger flenser said...


Maybe this will illustrate the distinction a little better. This is a fertility symbol. I suspect that few people would describe it as "veneration of female beauty" though. Similar types of male symbols were also common in the ancient world.

I would think a woman's beauty is directly related to her presumed receptiveness to advances ..

Then you would be mistaken. And as I mentioned, women are some of the biggest consumers of female imagery. Who reads VF? Check out the womens magazine rack next time you are in the bookstore. Don't tell me they all have latent homosexual urges?

my response is, what are their birth rates?

An interesting point.

At 12:33 PM, March 13, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It just seems to me that this is about perfection. Perfection of form, of careers, and of existence.

The feminists position, if true, seeks to give women all they would ever want in return for the destruction of free will. Meaning, for such a philosophy of feminism, happiness is rote and preset, rather than the result of individual actions and desires.

This idea of 'presetting' things ahead of human desires, human nature, and human urges is a theme I am noticing.

The femnists, if their position can be taken at face value, believe a woman can have it all. As Maureen Dowd does. She believes she can have a career from 20s to 40s and then get married to the person she desires. If you ever saw her on fox News, you would notice one of her comments to be, "Why can't we get rid of men, we'd be fine without them".

Happiness and perfection is preset, and if it is preset, then it is also malleable. It can be whatever you want it to be, and hence, it can be whatever you want for someone else as well. But the primary purpose is for their own selves in Dowd's case.

The female form seems to be another thing, given that it comes from Hollywood and not fly over country.

Many men have noticed that women in Asia and Eurasia countries like Russia act differently than Western women.

It really is a difference in our cultures, and Hollywood has a lot to do with it.

The perfection of the female form obviously appeals to women simply because women have a desire for happiness as much as men do, it just seems to take different forms.

However, if you combine perfection of form, an impossible goal, with the perfection of feminism's career and marriage, then you might have some societal problems. Namely teenagers taking steroids to get thinner and build muscles that are "shaped" according to the perfection standard of Hollywood and feminists. Or perhaps bolemia and anorexia. Or perhaps a higher incidence of female suicides than men.

Human society is symbiotic, meaning if you make the females unhappy then you automatically make the other 50% unhappy as well.

It would be fine if the feminists had ultra power to shape human destiny and human nature. It would be like the Democrats in control of 99.999% of the government. It would work since all obstacles and dissension would be crushed, so everyone's energies are contributed to the perfection of the human race.

However, Human nature is a very competitive and conflicting entity. It cannot be molded easily. And anyone who tries to achieve perfection through molding people as raw materials, will encounter difficulties.

Some things were not meant to be.

A woman has to be less than perfect. She has to choose between benefits and risks, opportunities and disasters. But for some women, as in Hollywood, choices don't mean anything compared to their religious perfection.

Art is as far as I know, an expression of humanity's desires. Sometimes, those desires are unrealistic and sometimes they are so common that many people may feel emotionally touched when seeing it.

At 6:48 PM, March 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Men doing crazy things for women perceived to be ideal has gone on for millenia. Cleopatra, Helen of Troy or Bathsheba are well documented cases. However, instead of viewing it as some sort of "men are pigs" phenomenon, feminine beauty through the ages has always been about health and fertility.

- In the time of Ruben, getting enough to eat was a key issue, so "Rubenesque" women were the ideal everyone thought was great. Now, eating too much is a greater health risk than not getting enough, so being near ideal body weight is what we want.
- For centuries, having a tan was evidence of being a peasant/farmer, so the ladies of Louis XIV powdered their faces to appear whiter. In the 70's and 80's, having a dark tan was ideal because it reflected a healthy, athletic, outdoorsy lifestyle. Now that tanning means skin cancer and wrinkles later, pale white is back in.
- Men prefer women with small noses because they are a sign of youth, and youthful women are more fertile (
- Small firm breasts can be a sign of youth, but larger ones are a sign of higher progesterone levels and thus higher fertility (
- Large, dark eyes simulate dilated pupils which are the brain's autonomic reaction when something interesting is viewed, signalling possible openness to mating.

In the course of Natural Selection, men looking for ideal partners to make maximal numbers of maximally survivable children gravitate to the mates considered "best". Making maximally survivable girl children also means making ones who themselves are considered desirable by the next generation. We men are evolved to like what we like. And we women are evolved to fulfill this standard. (Equivalent standards on other measuring sticks apply for how women evaluate men, so it goes both ways.)

In reality, we humans are not that different from the preening peacocks with their spectacular tail feathers, preening around for the peahens to choose from. I'm sure if peahens published magazines, the most fascinating covers they could produce would be of extravagant peacocks, showing off their goodies for all to see, posed in echoes of classical art.

At 11:53 AM, March 14, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

it as some sort of "men are pigs" phenomenon, feminine beauty through the ages has always been about health and fertility.

Well, now that I think about it, I realized that Ancient Greece held that beauty was actually evil in a woman. They just did.

Maybe that was why so many Greek men and Roman men were gay. They thought female beauty was an evil thing of temptation and degradation. While they exalted the male's form.

Now we have the exact opposite. Male strength is viewed by feminists as evil, brutish, and violent. While female beauty is viewed as pure, pristine, and Good.

So no, the "perception" of female idealness through the ages by men or others, have most definitely not been the same.

At 7:00 PM, March 15, 2006, Blogger MikeZ said...

The first thing to strike us moderns about the Manet painting is that the lady is nude, and the men are clothed.

One key is in the paragraph under the Giorgione:

"... The female figures in the foreground are the Muses of poetry, their nakedness reveals their divine being."

Whenever you see an ancient Greek statue of Zeus, Venus, Aphrodite,..., they're all buck-naked - because they're gods. The Roman emperors liked to have statues of themselves, nude, to show that they were gods, too.

I think the Greeks thought that the gods, immortal and ageless, embodied the ultimate in beauty and perfection; they appreciated the body in ways we probably can't understand, so to put clothes on them (even the ageless toga) would have been "gilding the lily".

One also thinks of Rubens (whose "Daniel" is practically naked, surrounded by a lot of grumpy-looking lions), whose ladies were more ample than skinny.


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