Classic art established a strict but subtle code for the representation of the nude, one which essentially insisted on a sense of distance between the viewer and the naked figure. Bouguereau's picture conforms to this code impeccably, the skin of his Venus being so unblemished, and her proportions so ideal, as to seem unreal - certainly, there are no indications of the identity of the model who posed for the figure. Courbet's picture, in contrast, presents a very different perspective. The proportions of his nude, albeit exaggerated to stress her fleshy weight, are intended to seem closer to those of real women.
The gesture employed by the Courbet nude is drawn from a revered precedent: images of Christ encountering Mary Magdalene after he emerges from the tomb (images which generally take as their title Christ's words, noli me tangere, or "Do not touch me"). However, in this context, the gesture might seem to stress her sexual allure, rather than any sacred meaning, and in this sense would have added to the shocking impact of the picture.