Olympia | Édouard Manet | 1863

Olympia | Édouard Manet | 1863

Olympia | Édouard Manet | 1863

Manet, who should not be mistaken with Monet, another French painter; was the one who began with the transition from realism to impressionism in the second half of the 19th century.

The biography of Manet is not really interesting, so I’ll skip it and will talk about Olympia.

Today’s work is considered one of the paintings that marked the beginning of modern art, as it breaks with the academicist view of classical art. It is a copy of The venus of Urbino by Titian. And, like that one, it was a scandal; although this time, it troubled the Salon de Paris.

The controversy was not so much for the nudity of Olympia, but from the fact that, instead of being a goddess or an odalisque, Olympia represents a high-class prostitute. To the left, we see a black servant, completely dressed, that offers her a flower bouquet. This is probably the gift of a costumer, but she rejects it with indifference. In the background of the painting, we see long and heavy dark curtains that contrast with the white of the bed and the skin of the prostitute.

While the Venus from Titian gently covers her sex, Olympia protects it firmly, like she is emphasizing her independence and her dominion over men. The accessories she wears, such us the orchid in her hair, the bracelet, the ribbon around her neck and the high heel shoes, all of them accentuate her nudity, her courtesan lifestyle and her sexuality. Also on the contrary from the Venus of Urbino, instead of having a dog, a symbol of fidelity, at the end of the bed; she has a cat, symbolizing prostitution. In another way, the nudity is also different from Titian’s: in his, it was idealized, while in Olympia, it has a connotation much vulgar and earthly. 

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~ by Álvaro Mazzino on September 13, 2010.

2 Responses to “Olympia | Édouard Manet | 1863”

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