Depiction of Gender in Renaissance Art
By Joseph Parish
As mankind progressed within the Renaissance movement there was a drastic increase in artistic endeavors. Civilization advanced greatly as efforts were expended in the fields of descriptive writing, talented musical melodies and above all an increase in artistic creations. Unfortunately for the female in our Renaissance society, she was considered incapable of contributing towards the imaginative undertakings being assembled. It was a men only option and women were simply forbidden to participate.
We have to adhere to the attitudes at the time for women were believed to be created strictly for the home. They were a channel for creating children so that the breadwinner could have his name carried on. They were expected to clean and manage the home and above all they were anticipated to listen and follow the instructions set forth by their husband. One generally considers these tasks to be humiliating to the female gender however when taken in the context of the time, these domestic positions were extremely vital. These marital demands were important to the society at the time as the home and family was the center of man’s universe.
Broadly speaking women were typically unable to gain acceptance into the necessary craft guilds in order to promote their artistic abilities. Frequently, they were uneducated and had little monetary funds at their disposal. A few exceptions include female artists such as Sofonisba Anguissola. Women were generally at the mercy of their spouse in all aspects of their life. We frequently catch a rare glimpse of the attitudes revealed by the Renaissance man in support of his contradictory views concerning women as we observe the topics of their paintings. Most of the art during that time frame was concentrated upon human figures (known as humanism) thus we are afforded a chance of understanding their inner most thoughts on women.
Another aspect to consider is that during this period of time the church was rapidly losing it’s position in the state and as such the increased humanism displayed in the painting include the nudity were apt to be a form of rebellion towards the church fathers. Traditionally, this humanism was frowned upon by the church. To counter this negative relationship with the people the Pope began massive art spending sprees to recapture the rapidly vanishing influence.
Da Vinci in order to be accepted into the realms of the church shied away from painting too many nudes and concentrated more upon portraits and notable scenes from the bible featuring conventional woman. On the other hand, we find artists such as Titian who ventures forth a bit more brazenly with his “Venus of Urbino” and his “Venus and Adonis”. Titian focused upon the sexual aspects of the female body and likely used his abilities to create paintings of that nature which he knew would sell to the wealthy men of the time.
In view of the pristine pedestal which man at the time placed the female, it is surprising that the women were depicted in the manner that they were in the art at the time. Here we view the female in every conceivable notion other than at home. We see her depicted in forms relating to biblical images, as exotic goddesses, fashionable portraitures and above all as a nude recurrently in sexually suggestive poses.
As you may have noticed the artist portrays the female in the exact opposite roles that which they possess in reality. Perhaps in their art the men have projected unconscious images of the woman as they would have preferred them to be. At this point in time I would like to contend that perhaps very few of these artistic poses in which we view a nude female were created with an actual nude model. In place of that the artist would likely paint a portrait of the women and at some later time add the body to the painting in observation of the strict limits of morals imposed in the social circles of the time.
To support this idea let’s review two famous paintings by Titian. In the “Venus of Urbino”, Titian shows us a woman who is lying naked upon a bed during the daytime hours. She is slightly covered as she hides her vagina but allows her breasts to be exposed. This is certainly a suggestive pose to say the least. With another of Titian’s painting known as “Danae” we again see a naked woman lying in a similar fashion as above with her breasts once again exposed. In support of my theory stated above we can see the marked similarities of the female body in these two paintings. It is almost as if the artist has perfected one specific body design and employs it on each painting he produces. The size of the breasts appears to be equal as do the curvatures of the hips and stomach.
All in all, I feel that females were not treated fairly during the Renaissance period. They were hindered in their quest to produce art as they so desired, often they were the brunt of the erotic desires of the artist and as I suggested above frequently “Photo-shopped” by having their portrait placed upon a nude body.
Copyright @2011 Joseph Parish