In Murrell’s explanation of “Posing Modernity,” she argues, in reference to T.J. Clark’s seminal text “Olympia’s Choice,” that the depiction of the servant in Olympia represents fictional understandings of Blackness, from a European perspective, of “natural” servitude. She deconstructs this narrative, presenting the Black woman as a foil to the accompanying white woman’s exalted position across portrayals of Black and white women together.
These works serve to perpetuate the inaptness of the Black female body for nudity, vouch for its ugliness, and dismiss it in aesthetic conversations, then and now. Much more than a visual rendering of a mythological tale, Titian’s Diana and Actaeon served to perpetuate a European Renaissance fantasy of what was visually interesting and societally accepted as beautiful at the time. Titian’s work acts to confine Black womanhood to a space of functional and visual servitude to white beauty. Diana’s attendant serves as the quintessential symbol for a Renaissance understanding of the role of Black women in European society. More than a sign of the times, she reflects the beginning of a long and continuing history of Black femininity contrasted with and relegated by white femininity in visual culture.