At first glance, both paintings seem to be representing the same matter, with the same composition using linear perspective of a naked woman lying on a bed, a pet lying at her foot and one or some helpers behind. The work of Titian represents an erotica goddess, with her glowing charisma, lying comfortably while her left hand covers the private part, provoking audiences to shift their focus from her straight looking eyes toward where her hand places.
Its blatant sensual intentions kept the painting available only to a private crowd despite the Uffizi’s opening to the public previously (Morris 2013).
Under her feet is one peacefully sleeping dog, swirling itself. Two female maids behind her are minding their own business, heads looking at the chest under their feet, near the window at dusk.
Opposite to the firm ownership of the woman that Titian draws, the woman in Manet’s painting is staring indifferently, as if she is warning the observer for his uninvited and unwelcomed existence.
The sleeping dog, symbolic for fidelity is replaced with a startled black cat, a palpable metaphor for female sexuality (Elderfield 2013).
The black servant is looking at her confusingly, hands carrying a bouquet, supposedly from one of her clients, who enters the room right at the captured moment. The woman’s lying position is not as relaxed as that of Titian’s, her hand gently grasping her thigh to conceal her crotch.
While the “Venus of Urbino” embodies the classic Mediterranean romance, Olympia’s Parisian prostitute reflects the urban decay that surrounds her, rawer, crasher, and wholly devoid of the former’s positive innocence.
Hence, more than mere tools of seduction, these women have much to educate us about their respective social enclaves.
The difference in techniques of both Titian and Manet is the key factor to distinct the two masterpieces. The “Venus of Urbino” is created in the standard Renaissance practice. The spotlight of the painting – the woman, is somehow evoking an angelic impression, with a fair and blushing skin with some peach hues and her bright, golden hair let loose illustrates she is a woman of high-class, healthy and content.
Titian focuses on using bright and primary colors of a warm palette, notably the shade of crimson running through the painting, from the fluffy mattress under the ivory white drape that she is lying on, to the hint of the shade under her crossing knees, and stops at the dress of the maid in the background. He locks the glamour of the woman by glazing a sheer, shiny layer of veneer over the painting to protect it from the destruction of time, as well as to enhance the luminous image of a classic beauty.
Contrasting to the sfumato, well-blending texture of using wet-on-wet in oil painting to create a realistic matter of Titian, Manet’s rough in both color schemes and brush strokes in “Olympia” creates another meaning to the drawing. The woman, considerably a Parisian prostitute, appears drab and lifeless due to the intentional lack of shading.
The art piece screams a dull, cold and a distanced-yet-closed space, since Manet abused the use of mixing zinc white paint for the foreground, resulting in the absence of glowing, youthful skin of the woman, the messy bedsheet and the servant’s clothes.
He favors an earthy, dark palette, in which the background is a block of solid shades of emerald and umber as walls and thick curtains, and the mattress, is now a darkened burgundy. Both paintings are posed from a linear perspective, yet Titian embraced a wide setting with the brown patterned titles that leads the audience to an open window of sunset, while Manet strictly kept his model in a tightened space, which also reflects the depth of each subject matter.
Some might say that Manet’s practice is less meticulous, and therefore of lesser excellence. In fact, Manet’s contribution to the art history book subsequently, and arguably, surpassed that of Titian and many other Realist, and Impressionist forefathers. It was his daring willingness to let go of the glamorous touches, to confront and then to liberate, that inspired others to follow suit and to establish Impressionism as the next monumental movement.
Manet’s conspicuous “borrowing” of Titian’s raised significant waves of controversy during his time. It was deemed a knock-off, derivative and poor. In his defense, female nudity has never been a ground-breaking subject matter, and his artistic impact, to be accurate, was not in the peculiarity of his muses.
He borrowed all of Titian’s composition and perspective as if it was a quiet, respectful nod to his master. Yet the minute details that differentiate his prostitute’s from Titian’s Venus, including the intentional ‘poorness’, demanded to be looked at, discussed, and even respected by their own rights. It was never a replication. It was a continuation, with equal honor and irreverence of past legacy, that would later mark the start of a new era.
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