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  • In the 1800s, most paintings looked like this.

  • Muted colors, complex scenes, and lots of mythological stuff.

  • But in 1865 something came along that was so different, it caused shock and horror and

  • outrage.

  • the body's putrefying color recalls the horror of the morgue."

  • "a skeleton dressed in a tight-fitting tunic of plaster."

  • takes on at times the undefinable terror of a painted corpse.”

  • "her face is stupid, her skin cadaverousshe does not have a human form."

  • The painting is called Olympia, and it changed the art world forever.

  • Édouard Manet painted Olympia in 1863.

  • When Paris was the cultural center of the world.

  • And the center of this cultural center was the Academy of Fine Arts.

  • The Academy was made up of upper-crust art critics that worshipped the Italian Renaissance

  • painters of three hundred years prior.

  • You know - Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian

  • And at the Paris Salonthe Academy's legendary annual art showthey only displayed

  • art that mimicked the renaissance style.

  • To determine who got in, they had a bunch of rules.

  • First and foremost - great art was supposed to convey a moral or intellectual message.

  • And all acceptable art fell into one of five categories ranked by their capacity to deliver

  • those messages.

  • Landscapes and still lifes were at the bottom. In the middle are portraits...

  • And genre paintingsmostly quaint scenes of poor or foreign subjects, painted for the

  • rich.

  • At the top of the list is History painting, the Academy's darling.

  • These depicted major historical or mythical moments, they were considered the best at

  • providing an ethical or moral lesson.

  • Like depictions of the birth of Venus - showing the goddess emerging fully formed from the

  • ocean, a symbol of womanly perfection and divine love.

  • Which brings us to the second set of rules.

  • Equally important to what was painted was how it was painted.

  • Take that painting ofThe Birth of Venus

  • It's the kind of painting the Academy loved.

  • Its subjects are idealized, prettified visions of the worldsmooth and beautiful, with

  • no body hair and flawless skin.

  • The painting follows the rules of depth and perspectivemeaning it looks like it could

  • exist in the real world.

  • And the scene is complex and layered - there's a lot going on.

  • Its colors are ones you'd find in nature. They aren't too saturated or harsh.

  • And the brushstrokes are smooth. So smooth that they're nearly invisible on the canvas.

  • For a long time, really the only way to become a successful artist was to follow the Academy's

  • rules.

  • Which makes Manet's Olympia all the more an outlier.

  • Check out this painting by Renaissance master Titian from 1538.

  • Look familiar?

  • It should.

  • Manet painted Olympia as a direct riff on Titian's “Venus of Urbino.”

  • but there's a reason Manet's painting ruffled so many feathers when it hung in the

  • Salon.

  • For starters, the name Olympia was a popular pseudonym for sex workers.

  • Manet took a beloved, instantly recognizable painting and corrupted it - subbing in a common

  • sex worker for the morally upright goddess of love and fertility.

  • There's not much room for a sex worker in the heirarchy of genres.

  • But it was also how Manet painted Olympia was what really changed things

  • Manet used stark and unnatural colors that give Olympia a cold, harsh look.

  • And look at how rough and textured Manet's brushstrokes are compared to Titian's imperceptible

  • ones.

  • And, unlike Titians, Manet's painting doesn't seem to exist in real space. It's much flatter

  • and less complex.

  • And beyond the rules, the two paintings just feel different.

  • Venus lounges while Olympia sits at attention.

  • Venus' maids place furs in a chest, probably a wedding gift. Olympia's maid brings her

  • flowers, likely from one of her regular customers.

  • And compare their hands.

  • People really didn't like Olympia's tensed fingers - one critic claimed she wasmocking

  • the poseof Venus, with a hand shamelessly flexed"

  • Where Venus is warm and inviting, Olympia is tense and stiff. It's as if Venus invites

  • you to look at her, while Olympia confronts youalmost like she's shaming you for

  • intruding.

  • It's not totally clear why the Academy chose to display Manet's rule-breaking painting,

  • but it probably had something to do with Manet's growing popularity.

  • You can see his influence so clearly in what came next.

  • He led the charge toward modernism in the late 1800s.

  • Starting with the impressionists - Monet, Degas - who adopted his penchant for modern

  • themes and loosened brushstrokes.

  • But it's not just the impressionists who owe Manet.

  • More than anything, Olympia is proof that no one entity gets to decide what art should

  • look like.

  • And, when we look back on the history of art, we don't remember the people who were really

  • good at following the rules.

  • We remember the people who moved the needle forward.

In the 1800s, most paintings looked like this.

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The naked lady that changed the rules of art

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/08/18
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