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Women and Beauty in Art

There can hardly be too much praise for a YouTubist EggMan913 who created a stunning short video history of a female portraiture in Western art. Not only is this video a praise to the image of a Woman, it is also a deftly organised observation of the angles, postures and expressions throughout 500 years of Western painting. In the first 10 seconds you see a Russian icon melting into three consecutive portraits by Leonardo (A Head of a Young Woman (read about this famous sketch at Thais – Leonardo Pittore, both in English and Italian), Madonna with the Carnation, and Mona Lisa (La Gioconda)), changed by Raphael’s Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn, which in turn melts into Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Unfortunately, although the video is clearly subtitled ‘500 Years of Western Art’, some viewers still missed the point and expressed concerns that only portraits of white women were used. Let me stress once again that in this video we should look beyond a mere portrayal of a female beauty. We need to pay attention to how the faces of women from different epochs and countries, painted by many an outstanding artist, melt, transfuse into one another. Not attempting to minimise EggMan’s success, I would point out that this success was possible primarily because, as this video amply demonstrates, Western art throughout its entire history looked at a woman from more or less the same angles.

To illustrate the point, look at the first few images. On all of them a painter sits to the left of his model and looks up at her. All models have their heads turned, under a different angle, to their right. This striking similarity is enhanced if we bear in mind that these depictions come from the 12th, 15th and early 16th cc.

(The images, from left to right, clockwise: Archangel (Angel the Golden Locks) (Novgorod School, Russia, 2nd half of the 12th c.), Head of a Young Woman (Leonardo, 1506-1508 (?)), Madonna with the Carnation (Leonardo, c. 1475), and The Birth of Venus (Botticelli, c. 1485)).

Even only based on the portraits of European and predominantly white women, this video shows 500 years of a continuous evolution not only of the image of female beauty, but of the concept of Beauty, as well. With this video EggMan, consciously or not, plays a check on what we conceive of as beautiful. Although the majority of comments to this video are positive, some of them decry modern art for its deviation from what is perceived as a “classical” model of Beauty, evoked in the works of art prior to the 20th c. However, I dare say that the Russian icon that opens the video and Picasso’s Portrait of Françoise at the end are a very deft choice. For their schematism builds a barrier between the image and its model, thus inviting a viewer to look beyond the model’s physique. ‘Beautiful’ hence is not an external, but an inner quality of the model, and if there is anything that we should be indebted for to the 20th c. art is that it has gone every extra mile to make us see beautiful in something which doesn’t look such at the first glance.

Finally, even if this video doesn’t provoke you to any high-flown discourse on the subject of Beauty with your friends and colleagues, it can be treated as a short exam on your knowledge of the history of Western art. And, unless EggMann is already in the process of doing this, may we kindly ask him to make a film about men in Western art. This subject is no less beautiful, and the controversy that often surrounds it will only expand our perception of Beauty.


EggMan913 channel
University of Dayton (Madonna with the Carnation)
Thais – Arte & Natura (Leonardo’s sketch) – in English and Italian
Христианство в искусстве/Christianity in Art (Archangel) – in Russian, English, and German
John W MacDonald’s Blog (The Birth of Venus)

5 thoughts on “Women and Beauty in Art”

  1. Clara, thanks a lot for your comment! May I suggest you to put yourself on my map of friends – that way not only me but any visitor could find your website, which I think may be of interest to many. Thanks! JD

  2. Really nice post. And do you know any art < HREF="http://allwomenstalk.com/dir/" REL="nofollow">women’s directory<> to look for more information like that?

  3. Ann, thanks a lot for your comment. Unfortunately, I stumbled upon this video while browsing Technorati, I wasn’t searching any art directory for it, so I guess had it not been for Technorati, the post would have appeared much later. You may wish to check some Pre-Raphaelites videos on YouTube, as they will have many female portraits featuring in the slide shows. I’m afraid I can’t be on more help, but once again, thank you very much for stopping by and leaving the comment. Official Medicines, спасибо огромное за все отзывы! С Новым Годом! 🙂

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