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June 10, 2007

Sunday Grace

[by litbrit]

The face of woman in Western art, in her many incarnations.  An offering of beauty, the transient and eternal alike--at once, in fact--unwrapped and presented with a videographer's gentle flourish and  Yo-Yo Ma's poignant cello.

Via the brilliant Lord Whimsy, who notes:

An absolute joy to watch. The sequence sometimes gives the impression that the eternal face behind it all is actually flirting with you.

If you're interested, here is the approximate progression: Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael - Raffaello, Titian - Tiziano Vecellio , Sandro Botticelli , Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Antonello da Messina, Pietro Perugino, Hans Memling, El Greco, Hans Holbein, Fyodor Stepanovich Rokotov , Peter Paul Rubens, Gobert, Caspar Netscher, Pierre Mignard, Jean-Marc Nattier, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Alexei Vasilievich Tyranov, Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky, Alexey Gavrilovich Venetsianov, Antoine-Jean Gros, Orest Adamovich Kiprensky, Amalie, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Édouard Manet, Flatour, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Wontner, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Comerre, Leighton, Blaas, Renoir, Millias, Duveneck, Cassat, Weir, Zorn, Alphonse Mucha, Paul Gaugin, Henri Matisse, Picabia, Gustav Klimt, Hawkins, Magritte, Salvador Dali, Malevich, Merrild, Modigliani, Pablo Picasso.

[Video by eggman913]

[H/T Lisa in Baltimore]

June 10, 2007 in Art | Permalink


While the idea is extremely unique and it's very fun to watch, I feel I should point out that all these "muses" for artists throughout history are white women. Where are the women of color?

Posted by: ksteiger | Jun 10, 2007 2:15:51 PM

Unless I'm lost in art history, some of those beautiful faces are male.

Just to add to the contrarianism....

Posted by: gob | Jun 10, 2007 2:30:10 PM


thank you for that...it was like unwrapping layers of a gift. so beautiful.
"the birth of venus" by boticelli is always a special gift to behold.
...i do agree with ksteiger that it is unfortunate that there were no darkskinned muses included there, if even only one of the exquisite tahitian women painted by paul gauguin, still western art.
.....i often wonder what it is like for a young black girl in american cities to wander through museums and galleries of vermeer and renoir, rubens and all manner of american and european beauties and never see themselves represented there.
it is hard to imagine what that exclusiveness must feel like. it is a sad thought.
....thank goodness, now, there is a true appreciation for the incredible beauty of black women.
our beauty comes in all colors.
and how beautiful we all are.

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 10, 2007 3:06:44 PM

The sequence sometimes gives the impression that the eternal face behind it all is actually flirting with you.

Well of course it does --- almost without exception, these women were painted by male artists for male patrons, each of whom had his own reasons to favor depictions of women that flattered and seduced the viewer.

Watching the video, I was struck by the sameness of the expressions --- a gentle smile, an open, inviting countenance. Lips gently curved upward or gently parted. No laughter, no scowl, no glare, no reproach, no resolve, no demand. Just eternal goodwill, eternal indulgence, eternal availability.

Posted by: Brookylnite | Jun 10, 2007 4:31:51 PM

I can't shake the feeling that there is something objectionable about this, from a feminist perspective, though I can't put my finger on it.

Posted by: Jason | Jun 10, 2007 5:16:59 PM

This isn't really my kind of presentation for these images, but it does show the interesting similarities, and differences, to peculiar effect. The images were no doubt selected in part because of similarities, to fit with the morphing. Even so, there are many expressions, and the faces were of very different women painted for very different purposes. (I thought I also saw one that wasn't white, if that really matters.)

There will very seldom not be something objectionable in human acts from the past (or present).

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 10, 2007 5:39:47 PM

these portraits are idealizations of women...ethereal, madonna-like.
...vermeer, renoir, fragonard ingres, da vinci were painting women in lacquered, pearly light or mysterious half-light. these are not women in the light of a real day.
....and so, it seems, women are loved, idealized and admired,as long as they appear perfect.
......these are The timeless, quintessentially airbrushed perfect facsimiles of women.
notice that none look human. they are the "feminine ideal".
...most of these portraits are not even erotic...demure, dreamy, gentle, non-threatening to be sure.
to be idealized, is to be loved.
that is what seems objectionable.
and gob, i agree that at least one of the faces i seem to remember as male in a painting by carpaccio or caravaggio.
......but the portraits themselves, are beautiful.
but beautiful in the same way as the airbrushed, reconfigured women in videos and photographs are today.
.....the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 10, 2007 5:54:52 PM

Gosh, all these esoteric comments and my first thought was that the eternal image of female beauty looks a lot like Madelaine Stowe.

Also, that smile reminds me a lot of my wife walking down the aisle on our wedding day.

That smile is not always to be erotic, though it can be. It is only phony if the woman smiling, the man looking at her, or the onlooker want it to be. For a lot of males, sometime in their life, that smile can bring on a moment of purest joy, unlike any other. One that leaves the man whispering, tongue-tied, or speechless.

A rare thing for most and quite unlike the joy of winning, succeeding, or creating. It is a great sadness when you lose it and the memory of it, particularly if it was your fault. If you are lucky and smart, it can carry you through decades of life.

That may be what these male artists were all remembering and thinking about, whatever their other motives.

Posted by: Midland | Jun 10, 2007 6:28:51 PM

yes,all of those smiles are like the smile of a bride, walking down the aisle, in her most hopeful, most idealized moment, her face is covered in a tulle veil, not unlike the effects of lacquer on a great artist's brush.
...and that is the beautiful, serene, voluptuous, loving smile that can do no wrong.
playful love, the sweetness of love, mother's love, gentleness, grace.
it is an ideal of beauty which is timeless.
john keats also understood this very well.

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 10, 2007 6:37:21 PM

Wow, I thought that it was incredibly moving, beautiful and sensual.

I must not be as sophistimucated as y'all professional critics.

Posted by: Grace | Jun 10, 2007 10:09:21 PM

As someone who's not especially good at detecting when a genuine flirting situation is going on, I'm rather happy that you quoted that bit from Lord Whimsy. Now I'll know how to tell that girls are flirting with me -- their faces morph rapidly into the faces of other people!

Actually, I found some of the shifts in facial position and expression as they morphed particularly natural, like motions that might occur in conversation.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jun 10, 2007 11:11:38 PM

I first found this video on I Blame the Patriarchy so I had a whole different context going into it, and I can't say how I would have liked it if I hadn't seen it there first, but yeah seeing it there, I got a little creeped. I don't know anything about art, FYI, but anything meant to evoke some sort of timeless beauty by using a woman's face creeps me out. I think I agree with jacqueline, there's something weird about the equation of beauty with love, and yeah I think the sameness is pretty weird. I also don't like the phrase "the eternal face"--what about people who don't look like that at all? Nor do I find the expression particularly inviting, except the one woman who is laughing out loud--I'd rather see someone giggling so hard her face is distorted than this weird serene non-person.

That said, I don't understand art at all, any more than I understand sports (and I really, really don't understand sports)--I find the cello line much more beautiful, gentle, warm, and peaceful than pretty much any painting I've ever seen (nothing against paintings, it's just extremely rare that I find one that moves me at all--I understand many people feel similarly about classical music).

Posted by: Isabel | Jun 11, 2007 12:15:13 AM

Isabel, Jason- I feel much the same. It's worth noting that these are male depictions of archetypal female beauty, the standard for which has been determined by men since time immemorial. It'd be much more interesting to see a similar video of female artists' depictions of women or men. (If you could find enough female artists to fill up the 2 minutes and 50 seconds.)

Posted by: Ursula | Jun 11, 2007 1:08:59 AM

If these are male artists depictions of beauty, I have to commend them for their aesthetics!

Posted by: DRR | Jun 11, 2007 3:55:10 AM

If these are male artists depictions of beauty, I have to commend them for their aesthetics!

Posted by: DRR | Jun 11, 2007 3:55:22 AM

There was at least on expression of (gentle?) (loving?) (contemptuous?) amusement in that lineup. One of those women wasn't impressed and didn't mind if El Van Whatsisface painted the opinion.

Posted by: Adam Peter Stein | Jun 11, 2007 1:57:44 PM

adam peter stein
El Van Whatasisface...yes, i looked him up...
he is the one who studied briefly in antwerp, after leaving an apprenticeship in diamond cutting...studied shadows in holland, light in venice...assisted with a lesser fresco in a chapel in toledo (spain, that is).
the wall of the chapel burned mysteriously one night.
the cause of the fire was never determined.
he also suffered permanent impairment of his vision from a flying bottle of linseed oil.
'twas that model with the contemptuous gaze.
la belle dame sans merci.
...to this day,she lives in great art to tell the tale.

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Posted by: missliang | Sep 6, 2007 10:38:24 PM

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