Nude or Naked?

In the lecture on Realism, we discussed how Manet subverts art historical expectations in Luncheon on the Grass, presenting the female figure, not as classical nude, but rather naked within a modern setting. Manet does something similar in his painting Olympia from the same year (1863). Olympia is a portrait of a prostitute receiving flowers sent by a client and is tended to by her servant. Manet’s influence for Olympia comes from the Italian Renaissance painter Titian’s Venus of Urbino from 1538, which depicts the Roman goddess of love with two attendants in the background (the title also references the owner of the painting, the Duke of Urbino).

For this short essay, compare and contrast Olympia and the Venus of Urbino from the viewpoint of late 19th century France. Which figure would you describe as nude and which figure would you describe as naked? Consider the differences in lighting, color, and choice of pets, but also the body language and facial expressions of the two figures. Both Olympia and Venus are making direct eye contact with an incoming visitor – how do you think each woman feels about their visitor? What do you think Manet is telling the audience about the life of prostitutes in 19th century Paris?

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Paintings:

1. Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538

2. Manet, Olympia, 1863

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