In the 1800s, most paintings looked like this.
Muted colors, complex scenes, and lots of mythological stuff.
柔和的颜色 复杂的场景 以及富于神话色彩
But in 1865 something came along that was so different,
it caused shock and horror and outrage.
“…the body’s putrefying color recalls the horror of the morgue.”
” takes on at times the undefinable terror of a painted corpse.”
＂her face is stupid, her skin cadaverous…
she does not have a human form
The painting is called “Olympia”, and it changed the art world forever.
Édouard Manet painted Olympia in 1863.
When Paris was the cultural center of the world.
And the center of this cultural center was the Academy of Fine Arts.
The Academy was made up of upper-crust art critics
that worshipped the Italian Renaissance painters of three hundred years prior.
You know – Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian…
你知道的 米开朗琪罗 拉斐尔 波提切利 提香
And at the Paris Salon
— the Academy’s legendary annual art show
– they only displayed art that mimicked the renaissance style.
To determine who made the cut, they had a bunch of rules.
First and foremost –
great art was supposed to convey a moral or intellectual message.
And all acceptable art fell into one of five categories
ranked by their capacity to deliver those messages.
Landscapes and still lifes were at the bottom.
In the middle are portraits and genre paintings
– mostly quaint scenes of poor or foreign subjects,
painted for the rich.
At the top of the list is History painting, the Academy’s darling.
These depicted major historical or mythical moments,
they were considered the best at providing an ethical or moral lesson.
Like depictions of the birth of Venus
– showing the goddess emerging fully formed from the ocean,
a symbol of womanly perfection and divine love.
Which brings us to the second set of rules.
Equally important to what was painted was how it was painted.
Take that painting of “The Birth of Venus”
It’s the kind of painting the Academy loved.
Its subjects are idealized, prettified visions of the world — smooth and beautiful,
理想化的主题 美化的世界图景 光滑美丽
with no body hair and flawless skin.
The painting follows the rules of depth and perspective —
meaning it looks like it could exist in the real world.
And the scene is complex and layered – there’s a lot going on.
Its colors are ones you’d find in nature
They aren’t too saturated or harsh
and the brushstrokes are smooth.
So smooth that they’re nearly invisible on the canvas.
For a long time,
really the only way to become a successful artist
was to follow the Academy’s rules.
Which makes Manet’s Olympia all the more an outlier.
Check out this painting by Renaissance master Titian from 1538.
Manet painted Olympia as a direct riff on Titian’s “Venus of Urbino.”
— but there’s a reason Manet’s painting ruffled so many feathers
when it hung in the Salon.
For starters, the name Olympia was a popular pseudonym for sex workers.
Manet took a beloved, instantly recognizable painting
and corrupted it – subbing in a common sex worker
for the morally upright goddess of love and fertility.
There’s not much room for a sex worker in the heirarchy of genres.
But it was also how Manet painted Olympia was what really changed things
Manet used stark and unnatural colors that g
ive Olympia a cold, harsh look.
And look at how rough and textured Manet’s brushstrokes are
compared to Titian’s imperceptible ones.
And, unlike Titians, Manet’s painting doesn’t seem to exist in real space.
并且 与提香不同 马奈的作品看起来不太真实
It’s much flatter and less complex.
And beyond the rules, the two paintings just feel different.
Venus lounges while Olympia sits at attention.
Venus’ maids place furs in a chest, probably a wedding gift.
Olympia’s maid brings her flowers,
likely from one of her regular customers.
And compare their hands.
People really didn’t like Olympia’s tensed fingers
One critic claimed she was “mocking the pose” of Venus,
with a hand shamelessly flexed
Where Venus is warm and inviting, Olympia is tense and stiff.
It’s as if Venus invites you to look at her,
while Olympia confronts you
—almost like she’s shaming you for intruding.
It’s not totally clear why the Academy chose to display
Manet’s rule-breaking painting,
but it probably had something to do with Manet’s growing popularity.
You can see his influence so clearly in what came next.
He led the charge toward modernism in the late 1800s.
Starting with the impressionists – Monet, Degas –
从印象派开始 莫奈 德加
who adopted his penchant for modern themes and loosened brushstrokes.
But it’s not just the impressionists who owe Manet.
More than anything, Olympia is proof that no one entity gets to decide what art should look like.
And, when we look back on the history of art,
we don’t remember the people who were really good at following the rules.
We remember the people who moved the needle forward.
In the 1800s, most paintings looked like this.