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Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
|Photo Courtesy of WikiArt|
Originally exhibited in the 1865 Paris Salon, this naked woman lying reclining on a bed is being brought a bouquet of flowers by her black handmaiden. The public “oohed” and “poo-pooed” at this painting, due to the shock of seeing a naked prostitute with a confrontational gaze. The clues to detect her nefarious status include the flower in her hair as well as the black choker. Never before had a woman of Olympia’s standing (or rather laying), a courtesan, been seen loud and brashly proud in her birthday garment. Painted in a modern fashion with broad, rough brushstrokes Olympia’s body is not that of a Venus or a rotund goddess. She is muscular, lean, and even a bit androgynous. She is laying buck naked, which is a departure from the nudes that existed before her. Nudes typically were goddesses who came out of clam shells or floated atop the crest of a wave, seemingly suspended by gravity. Nudes were astral, celestial, and other worldly. Most importantly, they did not have pubic hair. Before the advent of laser hair removal and waxing, women bore the 70s genital fro. Our little Olympia is hiding her genitals, alluding to the fact she is indeed a real woman. Manet outlines Olympia’s body with a thick black line that defies the idea of chiaroscuro, or illusionistic shadowing.