Beyond the body, perfection is feminine

Mar 29, 2022 10:44AM

Breezy is curating an exhibition that will be held in Rome, at the Ex Cartiera on the prestigious Via Appia Antica, on April 22nd - 30th, to investigate the complex relationship between human beings and technology through the eyes of our time. To introduce the event and all the artists who will take part in it, we would share with you the process of research and study behind the creation of a curatorial concept titled: I(m)perfection: the laws of technology that dominate order and chaos. We will do this with short essays that will look at technology in its relationship with the concept of beauty, in its evolution through the centuries. We will talk about art and philosophy, order and chaos, mathematical weighting and improvisation. The question with which we want to introduce you to the reading is: Where does the purest and most authentic concept of beauty reside? In the proportion and balance of forms or, rather, in the undisciplined chaos?


Over the centuries, the image of the female body has always been a vehicle for the transmission not only of a canon of aesthetic beauty, but also of social and political ideals.

An evolutionary theory based not so much on adaptation to living conditions in the strict sense of the word, but rather on the need to place women within this "role game" that is social living. We could talk for pages and pages about what it meant (and still means) to be a woman, but it is art that has taught us the communicative power of images. It is through art that we can glimpse sensuality, submissiveness, power, devotion to work and family, sadness and pride. Here the figure of the woman becomes a mirror of the society in which she lives, a balance of contrasting forces and emotions, a measure of the civilization of a people and the personification of the models chosen for her by the male power.

Why invest the woman with such a responsibility? The answer is quite simple and has its roots at the dawn of our history: the famous Venus of Laussel belongs to the Upper Paleolithic, representation of a shapely and generous female body, symbol of fertility. Fertility is life, is the continuation of the species and salvation.

Venus of Laussel, 12,000 B.C.

An evidently utilitarian function of the woman, without too much mystery or expectation. Components which enter with force in the representations of women in the Egyptian age. The ideal of female beauty in vogue in Ancient Egypt, in fact, corresponded to a slender body, with a high waist and narrow shoulders, with a symmetrical face, with an inscrutable and shy look, that communicated elegance and enigma, grace and strength.

But it is with the Greek civilization that we begin to address the role of women in society. Despite the awareness that she was a figure subordinate to man, defender of the homeland, rock of the family, holder of political power and knowledge, in Greece there were examples of reversal of these beliefs. The Amazons are a striking example, as mortal women represented as warriors fighting against the Greeks. The war is what makes them women, strong and unique in their coven, becoming bearers of an iconography all their own that sees them represented without the right breast, burned at an early age to have much more strength in the arm that stretched the bow and held the weapon.

A destiny, that of the woman-warrior, brought to its maximum expression in the representation of Athena, one of the major divinities of the Greek Pantheon. Yet, in order to find herself with her "colleagues", Athena was born from Zeus, a male divinity, and was forced to renounce her own femininity, remaining a virgin.

The Amazons and the representation of Athena cannot therefore be said to be ideal models to aspire to, for a Greek girl... Rather, graceful, sweet and sinuous figures such as the korai of the archaic age better lend themselves to examples of virtue. But among these sweet and subdued maidens, one stands out in history for its impudence and beauty: it is the Aphrodite of Cnidus, a work created by the sculptor Praxiteles around 330 BC and passed into history for being the first life-size female nude statue (the original has been lost, but hundreds of marble versions have been made).

Praxiteles, Aphrodite Cnidia, Roman copy from original of c. 360 B.C., marble, height 215 cm. Vatican City, Vatican Museums, Museo Pio-Clementino

We must look at this revolution not so much as a mere stylistic turning point, but as a revaluation of the female gender in its iconographic representation, with all the implications related to the reactions that such an erotic representation would have entailed.

Not by chance, the history of art has been crossed, over the centuries, by forms of agalmatophilia, carnal passions for works of art, so intense as to lead to madness. The Venus of Knidos was the protagonist of a similar episode, as told by Pseudo-Lucian in his Amores and Philostratus in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana, without forgetting the story of Pygmalion.

Harnessing provocative nudity is a concept that will accompany the entire Medieval period, where women are martyrs, saints and virgins. With the Renaissance, the Christian heritage was abandoned in favor of a new concept of the body. Where everything was a reason for study, interest and cultural growth, the body is not hidden, but investigated. An image well known to the history of art is the Allegory of Spring, in which there is the exaltation of woman as the driving force of nature in her being a symbol of physical love and the personification of the arts.

Sandro Botticelli, Spring, 1477, Uffizi Gallery, detail

To the few gifted with particular mastery in the arts, the possibility of giving free rein to their abilities, launching themselves into challenges of anatomy and sensuality.

Proud women were born, sometimes gentle and sinuous, others muscular and powerful, with masculine features. The body is harmony, perfection, it lends itself to be admired, certainly, but now we work on the detail: the gesture, the look, the unspoken.

What can we add to Raphael's marvelous Madonnas?

Raffaello Sanzio, Madonna of the chair, 1514, Pitti Palace, Florence

His women are welcoming mothers, whose expressions conceal all the love and pain of an already written destiny.

Tales of women different in the centuries, but always equal to themselves in their own historical moment. A space-time break occurred when an element of social diversification was introduced that touched not only men, but also women: it is the advent of the industrial revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. It is in this way that working-class women, dedicated to work in the fields (later also devoted to social revolts and factory work as a response to the terrible famines of the period) and upper middle-class women, dedicated to the quiet daily family life, Sunday walks and social events, coexist in the same era. The emancipation of women and self-determination is making its way, albeit at different rates in each European country.

Even, with his "Olympia" Manet reveals that tradition started by Titian, passing through Goya with the "Maja Desnuda", which tells the woman in an unequivocal profession.

1. Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1534, Uffizi Gallery; 2. Goya, Maja Desnuda, 1797-1800, Prado Museum, Madrid; 3. Manet, Olympia, 1863, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

This greater social involvement results, in the Victorian era, in a cultured woman, a lover of the arts, such as literature, music and painting, but still harmless, like a precious cameo adorning the house and her man. A risk that Klimt caresses in his paintings, with female protagonists of a terrible and bloody eroticism.

Giuditta I, Gustav Klimt, 1901, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Wien

The female nude in the 20th century wears and shows its sensuality with a complete reversal of course compared to the scenario from which we started, when the only nude allowed in art was male.

Today, free from any prejudice, we no longer narrate a gender, relegated to a status or social role, but the harmony, fluidity and history that flows between the tortuous curves and folds of the skin.

Perfection is not in the shapes of the body, but in the balance between what appears and what one is deep inside. Is it really so essential to investigate the identity? Perhaps the secret to grasping the heart and intellect of a human being lies in not allowing oneself to be distracted by appearance.