The reclining nude is one of Western art’s signature themes. This seminar will examine some of its finest painted depictions: from the very first masterpieces in Renaissance Venice to modern-day paintings that critique this great tradition.
Around 1508 the Venetian artist Giorgio da Castelfranco - better known as Giorgione - painted an oil on canvas image of a naked woman lying asleep in a rural landscape. In so doing, he invented one of Western painting’s greatest themes - that of the reclining nude. Giorgione’s idealized Sleeping Venus would soon find herself awake and transported to various beds in more palatial surroundings. Painters the likes of Titian, Velasquez, Boucher, Ingres, Manet, and Matisse, all fell under the spell of the recumbent female nude.
While the genre’s early paintings were seductive scenes that reveled in sensuality, in Edouard Manet’s Olympia of 1865 the mythological, and therefore distanced, goddess of these works was ousted by an all-too-real prostitute. Its exhibition created a scandal. Since then, the reclining figure has served as a vehicle of expressive form and color (Henri Matisse); has been represented more naked than nude (Lucien Freud; Jenny Saville); has portrayed maternal love (Paula Modersohn-Becker); and, breaking with a tradition that predominantly featured female subjects, has, in more recent years, begun to depict male reclining nudes (Alice Neel; Sylvia Sleigh).
Led by Sally Grant, an expert on early-modern European art, this interactive seminar will recount the evolving story of the painted reclining nude, from the genre’s invention in Renaissance Venice to more recent works that critique this tradition. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travel, the conversation will lead to an increased understanding of one of Western art’s essential, and most seductive (and subversive), genres.
Sally Grant is an art historian who specializes in early-modern Venice. Born and raised in Scotland, she completed her PhD in Art History and Italian Studies at the University of Sydney. She's now based in New York where her work spans art history scholarship and arts and culture journalism. She was a Summer Fellow in the Department of Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C., and she's currently writing a book on the art and experience of eighteenth-century Venetian villeggiatura (villa visiting). As an arts and culture journalist, Sally writes for publications such as Artforum, Australian Book Review, and Ms. Magazine.
Not suitable for children under age 13 (sensitive content).
90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.