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Botticelli-Saville Comparitive Art Essay

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The image of the nude is timeless, fundamental and universal. It has the ability to incite intense interest, yearning and even repulsion in the viewer. We often find that images of the nude reflect upon society’s attitudes towards beauty and gender issues. These issues are strongly highlighted in Jenny Saville’s nakedly confrontational ‘Propped’, which encompasses of a heavy-handed naked woman sitting on a stool. Her artwork forces the viewer to think of the female nude as not only an object, but also as a subject.

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Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ also addresses the issues of beauty and gender.

In the artwork, Venus appears to be emerging from the sea, standing in a shell. Symbolising female desirability, the Early Renaissance painting is in accordance to the myth of her ‘birth’ as a fully grown woman. The shape and form in Propped is clearly drastically distorted. Saville has used foreshortening as a way to emphasise the weight and size of the figures body, most noticeably the small scale of the head, which looks incredibly small in contrast to the rest of the figure. Foreshortening and tone help to create a distinctive look of the figures legs and knees.

There are various patches of light tones included across the chest area and knees, and the extreme distortion makes them look vast and almost bruised. There is limited colour used in the painting, mainly very natural pigments such as white, cream and light pink. Black has been used for the stool in the centre of the image, and coffee and olive colours can be seen in the background. There is also a text that can be seen scratched into the paint in mirror writing, running across and down the figures body which reads; ‘If we continue to speak in this sameness – speak as men have spoken for centuries, we will fail each other again’.

Saville has painted the artwork to make a point; to make the viewer realise that fat is a feminist issue. The angle of view in the artwork is low, and the observer is made to look up at the figure. In Birth of Venus, Botticelli has used light, soothing colours throughout all aspects of the painting, including highlights added into Venus’ hair to possibly emphasise the femininity of her body. Distinctive linear style and brushstrokes have been used to ensure detail in the tones and textures of the painting. Botticelli was known for including the linear style into his artworks, a style that was revived in the late 19th century.

The composition of the painting is impartially balanced. The artist has placed the figures in the artwork off to separate sides with Venus centred as the focal point. The weight and poses of the figures either side of Venus create symmetrical balance. The figure of Venus is slightly distorted. Botticelli has exaggerated the length of the neck and slope of the shoulders to enrich Venus’ natural elegance and grace. Flowing lines and decorative patterns can be seen throughout the artwork, most noticeably in the waves and leaves on the tree towards the right of the painting.

Propped has the same effect as a striking photograph; that it is purposely intended to unsettle its viewer. It is a significant artwork in today’s society as it raises contemporary concerns about expectations of beauty in the female body. Unlike Birth of Venus, Propped presents us with the vibe that the observer is not necessarily male. Feminists have praised Saville for her work and her interpretation of the female nude, noting that she has reclaimed the image of women liberating it from the diminishing male gaze.

Botticelli owes his inspiration for Birth of Venus to the classical ideals of ancient Greek art. At the time of its creation, almost all art was of a Christian theme. Nude women often symbolised sinful lust, however Venus remained to appear modest, attempting to hide her breasts with her hands and crotch area with her long, blonde, flowing hair. Venus strongly represented an Italian Renaissance ideal; blonde, pale-skinned voluptuous. Ideal female body figures continue to be a topic of discussion in our society today, as it was at the time Birth of Venus was produced.

Both artists have used the female nude as a way to represent issues about expectations of beauty in the female body in different ways. Botticelli has depicted Venus, the pagan goddess of love, and the forerunner of spring. He has presented her as an ideal female figure for his time, consequently making her a symbol for female desirability. Jenny Saville, on the other hand, has dramatically cropped and foreshortened the female figure in her artwork in an attempt to emphasise the body’s physical bulk, creating a less than ideal female figure for contemporary society.

Propped contains a strong cultural meaning, as do many of Saville’s works. Susie McKenzie speaks of her artworks in an interview with Saville in the Guardian on October 22nd 2005, stating that “Her exaggerated nudes point up, with an agonizing frankness, the disparity between the way women are perceived and the way that they feel about their bodies. ” Saville has clearly represented the female nude in a way that may confront today’s society, daring her viewers to pass judgement on the figure in her artwork.

Birth of Venus challenges the culture of Botticelli’s time, as it was a mythological painting, rather than relating to a religious theme as most art of that era did. Both artworks in question are figurative paintings of female nudes. Birth of Venus exists to represent the female nude as a symbol of desirability in women, as well as an icon of beauty and pleasure. Saville’s ‘Propped’ raises questions on the appearance and role of traditional paintings of the nude, such as Birth of Venus. Both artists gained inspiration from a variety of sources, all diverse from one another.

Botticelli created Birth of Venus under the influences from classical ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as classical sculptures he would have seen belonging to the Medici family, a client of his own. Saville spent time quenching her fascination with the body, particularly female flesh, by spending many hours watching plastic surgeons manipulate flesh. Gender issues are a strong concept in both works. A male viewing Propped will generally react negatively to the female figure in contrast to the way they might perceive Birth of Venus.

Because Birth of Venus is such a strong symbol of female desirability, a male viewer will usually prefer looking at Venus rather than the heavy-handed nude figure in Propped. Women will more commonly be able to relate to the figure in Propped than Birth of Venus as it centres on issues of expectations of beauty and the way a female may feel about her body, whereas some women could be intimidated by the ambiance of Venus. Both Propped and Birth of Venus are of immense scale. Birth of Venus was painted to fit an architectural setting.

At the time of its production, Botticelli intended for the observers of his artwork to view the subject matter, Venus, as an earthly goddess who stimulated humans to physical love, or as a heavenly goddess who enthused intellectual love in them. The interpretation of today’s society will differ, due to the lack of knowledge of mythological and ancient Greek themes. It has been suggested that viewers of our time will look at the painting and feel their minds simply lifted to the realm of divine love.

Saville’s work has been made to be presented in galleries and exhibitions. The scale of her work (213. x 183cm) is used to overwhelm the viewer, and demands an uncomfortable degree of intimacy between the gaze of the nude figure and the observer. Her purpose of creating the artwork was to raise questions about the expectations of beauty in today’s society. We are under the impression that the viewer of this type of artwork is generally female, and Saville wants her female observers to pass judgement of the figures enormous shape and size. Propped challenges the ideal view of women, as it depicts a hefty female nude figure rather than a slim one, which is usually preferred in current society.

Birth of Venus, however, provokes themes of beauty and lust, ideal to men and perhaps most other viewers. It is important to keep in mind that both artworks have been painted by different genders. Saville raises concerns about the representation of the female nude, which could be connected to the fact that she relates to the figure as a woman, and possibly faces the pressures of the anticipation and desire for beauty in her own life. Botticelli represents both beauty and pleasure in the symbolical Birth of Venus.

It is an important painting not only for the Renaissance, but for our society also. This may be because Venus characterized the idealistic figure of a woman, an issue that is consistently apparent in everyday life for not only women, but also men. Women may feel intimidated or disconcerted when viewing Venus as they could feel personally uncomfortable with their own figure. Its main intention is to bring pleasure to the male eye. In brief, both artworks continue to play a significant role in society today because of these intentions, gender issues and representation of the female nude.

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