BLOG Category: StudentAmbassadorProgram

Sarah Lucas – The Weird and The Wonderful
Carsten Holler: Art or Commodity?
Cold War Steve: The Satirical Art of Now
Painting Snow
The Art of Early Modern Map-Making
The Politics of American Art in the Mid-20th Century
Playing with the Boundaries: Isamu Noguchi’s Playscapes
Chris Burden: Exposing the museum’s system of power
Looking Back to Move Forward in the Time of a Pandemic
Alchemy as Science: The Surrealist Works of Leonora Carrington
Postcolonial symbolism in the work of Hew Locke
Egon Schiele: Depictions of the female nude as empowering or egotistical?
Windows to the World: Windows in Art
Artemisia Gentileschi: The Long Road to Recognition
Sol LeWitt - Why is this art!?
When museums went online: a guided tour of world galleries’ online online.
Embodying Post-war Angst: Kazuo Shiraga’s Choreographies
Exclusive Modernism: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Marcel Duchamp.
The Classical Male Nude and its Damaging Legacy
The male gaze made marble: The Aphrodite of Knidos by the Ancient Greek Praxiteles
The Art of Change: Women on Waves Activist Art Org
The Underwater Museum
The Emotive Landscapes of Wu Guanzhong
The Agnes Martin Experience
Student Ambassadors Program Overview

Postcolonial symbolism in the work of Hew Locke

Edinburgh-born artist Hew Locke grew up in Guyana.  His work builds upon his own heritage and experience to provide insight into the themes of colonial and post-colonial power.  Part of European colonial competition since the sixteenth century, Guyana fell under British control in 1814.  Locke witnessed the birth of independent Guyana in 1966, and his work explores the ways in which artists created and expressed nationhood.

Locke employs a variety of symbols in his work to explore colonialism and its legacy as well as themes of cultural identity.  He uses modern materials in a range of media (painting, photography, sculpture, installation) to consider the impact of a wide array of historical phenomena.  His work alludes to the European ‘age of discovery’ as well as the roots, height, and downfall of British imperialism.  He identifies with the Windrush generation, commenting on the mass migration of people from the Caribbean to Britain in the wake of the second world war, and considers their ongoing struggles with national identity.  The layering of materials in his work reflects the complex variety of past and present realities he explores.


Hew Locke, Hinterland, (2013)
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Locke has layered paint over a photograph of the statue of Queen Victoria in his hometown of Georgetown in Guyana.  During the socialist uprising of 1970, the statue was dumped in the Georgetown Botanical Gardens before being restored in 1990.  The painted images of skeletons and oppressed peoples over the monument symbolise the exploitation of native peoples under empire.  Queen Victoria’s statue becomes a symbol of the oppressive and exploitative nature of colonialism.

This work also provides a fascinating insight into how Guyana relates to its own past and nationhood.  The act of dumping the statue represents the casting off of more than a century of oppression; however, its restoration shows how British imperialism forms an inescapable part of Guyana’s nationhood and cultural identity.  Perhaps the faded, almost ghostly figures indicate that, despite this statue’s restoration, the past cannot be forgotten or ignored.


Hew Locke, Souvenir (series), 2019
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This series is made up of a collection of busts of Queen Victoria and her family, like those displayed in middle class Victorian homes.  Thus, they represent British cultural identity and symbolise imperial pride.

Locke ornaments these busts with a collage of lace, metal, and various symbols of colonialism.  He includes military badges and medals from the Benin campaign and the Ugandan and Zulu wars.  These bloodthirsty wars of the late nineteenth century destroyed African kingdoms and cultural traditions in the name of British imperial domination.  By draping these busts with medals, Locke illustrates the heavy burden of history and the atrocities enacted in the name of British imperialism.

Not only do these busts symbolise the formation of British identity, and the warlike nature of colonialism, they also symbolise the loss of native cultures.  Cowrie shells can also be found in the collage.  In the past, these shells were used throughout the Americas, Asia, and Africa as a form of currency.  These are juxtaposed with English coins, stamped with the image of the royal family, to show how native cultures were stamped out and replaced by symbols of British imperialism.


Hew Locke, For Those in Peril on the Sea, 2011
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Timeless and universal, boats can be extremely evocative.  They symbolise travel, trade, and warfare and are employed by Locke to explore themes of globalisation and colonialism.  This haunting installation comprises 70 miniature boats hanging from the ceiling, filling an entire room.  The procession of ships travels through the air, noticeably bereft of sailors and passengers.

A mixture of contemporary and historical boats, this installation symbolises the timeless nature of sea travel.  Boats become symbols of hope, danger, happiness, and despair.  Thus, these pieces constitute a memorial for all of the lives touched by global sea travel and its consequences.


Hew Locke, Sea Power, 2014
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Another large-scale installation, made up of cord and plastic beads glued to the wall, Locke’s Sea Power is truly awe-inspiring.

This piece uses the symbolism of boats to reflect on the very roots of colonialism, the so-called European ‘Age of Discovery’.  It draws on ancient and Renaissance imagery as well as images of contemporary shipping and oil refineries.  The skeletal imagery illustrates the exploitation, warfare, and suffering made possible by European discovery and sea travel.  The legacy of imperialism, in the form of globalisation and consumerism, or ‘neo-colonialism,’ is also visible.  Thus, in this piece, Locke utilises the symbol of the boat to point to the centrality of sea travel in colonialism and its ongoing legacy.

Royalty and boats are only two of many symbols employed by Locke to explore themes of colonialism and national identities.  The juxtaposition of modern materials and historical subject matter sheds light on the ongoing legacies of European colonialism.  Such symbols are so important to his work that his own website is categorised in this way.

Locke’s Official Website

Artists and topics on the Art Story that connect to similar topics and are interesting to explore:

This blog post was written by Lucy Green, part of the third cohort of student ambassadors for The Art Story.

I graduated with a history degree from the University of Birmingham in June 2020, specialising in seventeenth-century Anglo-Ottoman relations and the European ‘Age of Discovery’.  I have a strong passion for history and art and hope to complete a Master’s degree in museum studies to pursue a career in heritage.
I am particularly interested in seeing how art speaks to historical movements and themes.  The exhibition Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing, held at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery in Spring 2019 spurred my interest in this artist and spoke to my historical interests in colonialism and its lasting legacy.

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

Egon Schiele: Depictions of the female nude as empowering or egotistical?

Egon Schiele’s life and work came to a sudden halt in 1918 when he and his pregnant wife Edith died from the Spanish flu epidemic, which raged through Europe. Although Schiele was only active for a limited number of years, his work is brimming with a plethora of vibrant paintings and drawings – the large majority of which depict the nude female form, often eroticised.

Love Act, study, 1915, coloured pencil on paper,

Schiele’s style has been criticised as grotesque and corpse-like, with his frequent use of a sickly colour palette and harsh rendering of human flesh. In addition, his female sitters were repeatedly positioned in explicit and revealing poses – their anatomy thus becoming the focus of the works. This tangled merging of the grotesque and erotic continues to intrigue us: are Schiele’s portrayals of the female form radical, allowing women to reclaim their bodies and embrace their sexuality in a time of strict female oppression, or are they the subject of Schiele’s own misogynistic desires?

Standing Nude with Orange Drapery: Study of Nude with Arms Raised, 1914, watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper

Schiele was classically trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he developed traditional artistic skills and was introduced to life drawing. This subject would be his obsession throughout his lifetime. As a modern artist, Schiele wanted to challenge the tradition of art, and he saw the Academy as being stuck in its ways, while the rest of society was progressing. The city around him was ripe with change. Schiele would have been aware of the work of Sigmund Freud, also living in Vienna, who introduced psychoanalysis and made advances in the study of psychology. Additionally in Vienna was Gustav Klimt, Schiele’s mentor. Klimt’s influence is clear as the sexualised female form was his focus as well.

Gustav Klimt, Reclining Nude with Drapery, 1912-13

Schiele’s nude drawings are more than mere studies and are often infused with a desire and sexuality which is hard to ignore. In many cases, Schiele’s female nudes are depicted with spread legs and unapologetic attention to their anatomy; at times he presents them in acts of sex and masturbation. Schiele portrays the female subject as much more than a passive muse; often the women’s gaze confrontationally meets that of the viewer. For example, his Seated Female Nude stares out from the canvas, her body cross-legged and folded over itself. She is not depicted as a submissive nude, but as a woman with her own agency.

Egon Schiele, Reclining Nude with Boots, 1918, charcoal on paper.
Egon Schiele, Seated Female Nude, 1914

Revealing the power and personality of the Modern Woman

Schiele’s female figures present themselves unabashedly towards the viewer, nothing like the academic nude which was repeatedly disguised as a passive portrayal of the goddess Venus. Many of his female nudes appear in an unarticulated space, their bodies placed on a blank canvas with no scenic context. This non-space calls attention to their nudity, and the fact that they are not a Venus, and that therefore the viewer cannot consume the female bodies behind the guise of mythology. Schiele’s images are honest in their raw emotion and the sexual desire which suffuses them. However, it was Schiele who posed these women. The revealing and explicit positions were largely of his choice, not the models’, which complicates the idea of their agency.

Lying Female Nude Torso, 1910, black chalk, gouache and watercolour
Woman with Black Stockings (Woman in Red Garters), 1913, gouache, watercolour and pencil

Schiele as user and abuser of the female form

Depictions of Schiele’s sister Gertrude are common, as well as those of Wally Neuzil, his lover and loyal companion, but they are few compared to those of the many more unnamed women who posed for him. Schiele’s female subject mostly has no identity, she is simply ‘nude’ or ‘woman’. With countless of Schiele’s nudes, such as Lying Female Nude Torso and Standing Nude in Red Jacket, the women have no head or face at all. This disembodying of the female figure arguably acts as another way in which Schiele takes away their identity and uses the female form as a subject of his own artistic and sexual desire. Schiele does not idealise these women, and he does not alter their bodies to please the eye of a man. They are instead gritty portrayals of the human body. He often pays close attention to the female anatomy; the vulvas of many of the women are pronounced and are sometimes the only aspect of the artworks containing colour. This could be argued as sexualising the bodies into objects for male consumption; however, the female body is shown for what it really is, with all its parts. Do we only view these images of the female nude as sexual due to the societal notion that a woman’s body is inherently sexual? Significantly, Schiele does not shy away from depicting himself in the same way as he depicts women – as unselfconsciously nude. But is this enough to enable us to classify his female nudes as empowering?

The choice is yours

Schiele’s female nudes present an entanglement of human desire and consumption of the female form. In some respects the female subject is given power and agency, she confronts the viewer, and her body is not idealised for the male gaze, making Schiele’s depictions of the female nude empowering, particularly for the early 20th century. However, there are fundamental issues with how women have been represented by the artist. Ultimately, Schiele’s female nudes are not about the women but about Schiele himself and his relationship with them. This detracts from the empowerment which at first appears to be engrained into his depictions. Whether you believe that Schiele’s portrayal of the female body is empowering or egotistical, these incredible artworks will continue to entice viewers due to their gritty and grotesque style, while seeming to also hide an insight into the mind of the modernist artist.

Written by Sarah Daniels for the second cohort of Student Ambassadors for The Art Story.

I have recently graduated from Plymouth University with a degree in Fine Art and Art History. I am interested in representations of the self, reception of women artists and depictions of the female form in Modernism. As well as many other aspects of the art world and history!

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

Windows to the World: Windows in Art

Having lived only in urban cities such as Singapore and London, I find myself fascinated by windows. They come in varied sizes and styles and are ubiquitous aspects of every building that makes up our cities and everyday life. They allow us to engage visually with the world from the comforts of our homes while protecting us from the elements. More than just architectural decoration, they determine the way light enters and fills personal sanctuaries such as homes and churches, playing a significant role in determining the atmosphere of a place. The contrast between their everyday, ordinary status and the versatility they possess as artistic subjects and motifs translates to my intrigue with them when they emerge in works of art.

Windows have lent themselves to artistic expression in multiple ways. Artists have used windows as a framing device to direct our gaze to a particular scene or subject, letting us understand the beauty they saw in a particular scene, or as a way to introduce light to an interior. The former can be exemplified by Pierre Bonnard’s House in the Courtyard (1895-96), while the latter can be easily observed in Adolph Menzel’s The Balcony Room (1845).

House in the Courtyard (1895-96) by Pierre Bonnard (Left) Click for larger image
The Balcony Room (1845) by Adolph Menzel (Right) Copyright – fair use

Other times, the window becomes a motif with symbolic associations of illumination and hope, or, conversely, a symbol of urban decay and destruction, as seen in the works of Chinese contemporary artist Yuan Yuan. In short, this ubiquitous motif of our everyday lives has been used in art to frame the most beautiful sceneries, illuminate otherwise dark interiors, and as a poignant symbol of urban life, as we shall see in the following examples.

Starting from the place closest to us, the interiors of our homes have served as a great source of inspiration for many artists, and windows have functioned as the focal point on many occasions. One of my favorites would have to be Vilhelm Hammershøi’s Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams (1900).

Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams (1900)
oil on canvas, 70 x 59cm
Copyright – fair use

At first glance, our attention is drawn to the brightest, and perhaps only, source of light in the empty, unfurnished room — the window. Yet, the limited view outside tells us very little about the surroundings of this mysterious room we have entered. The entire view consists of a small portion of a tiled roof and a gray expanse of concrete of a neighboring building. The proximity of the window to the neighboring building makes it appear near impossible for the door on the right, whose knob and keyhole is almost invisible, to open up to another space. The windows, bare without curtains, allow sunlight to filter through in clear rays,which make visible the dust motes dancing in the air. We follow the sunbeams diagonally with our gaze, ending at the silhouette of the window frame on the ground. Otherwise, the floor is unblemished and smooth to the point of abstraction, with no indication of texture. The room as a whole seems like a vacuum, enclosed and inscrutable, rousing our curiosity at what lies beyond. The beauty of this painting, for me, lies in how the window illuminates the muted interior without disturbing its tranquility, while providing us with steady reassurance of the presence of the greater world beyond the room.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Henri Matisse’s vividly colored interiors, which have incorporated windows on numerous occasions. Some of these works were made during his time at Collioure, on the Mediterranean coast of southern France, a place which soothed his depression with its vitality and vivid colors. Here, windows take on a metaphorical symbolism as windows to the soul, reflecting the emotional intensity with which the artist responded to the landscape before him.

Open Window, Collioure (1905)
oil on canvas, 55.3 x 46cm
Click for larger image

Open Window, Collioure is one such example which promises an escape from the banality of our everyday life. With the casements of the balcony thrown wide open, Matisse beckons us towards the window which looks out onto the idyllic scene of a small fishing port. All four sides of the window are present, presenting the window as an entity in the composition. In contrast with the implied rapidity of the textured brushstrokes, the composition is actually highly orchestrated. We may observe several pairs of complementary colors, such as the warm orange and reds of the flowers, pots and walls alongside the cool blues of the wall and harbor, and the swaths of green and fuchsia opposite each other on the wall nearest to us, echoed in the window panes of the casements. These strategically placed colors guide our eyes across the canvas in a zigzag motion from the walls to the window. While the thick brushstrokes and bright colors appear energetic and convey excitement, the repetition of geometric frames within the painting emphasizes their verticality and gives the painting a sense of structure. These contrasting elements – along with the depiction of an unobstructed view and his bold color palette, come together to form a psychological mirror, which reflects the liberation and contentment Matisse felt while staying on the Mediterranean coast, which the window was a portal to.

Moving forward to the present, windows have become a symbol synonymous with our built environment and have been used by artists to comment on urban decay. Fragments (2012) by Chinese contemporary artist Yuan Yuan comprises a triptych of three window panes sealed shut, frosted and broken, with the paintwork of its wooden frame peeling.

Fragments 《碎片》(2012) oil on canvas, 132 x 150c,

Click for larger image – refer to pg 105/123

The patchwork of different textures and patterns of the window panes suggests human intervention before we, together with the artist, stumbled upon this particular window. Inspired by his time at Guizhou province, the window resembles the stained glass of churches — the result of dwellers filling the panes with scrap material to keep the rain out. As much as these windows protect the dwellers from the elements, they also prevent us from viewing the interior, imbuing the painting with a sense of secrecy. The clumsy attempts to mend the broken window also bring to mind the process of ageing that accompanies the passing of time, further emphasized by the life-sized windows which allows us to observe microscopic details of every element, as if we were peering through an actual window. While the window panes may be a patchwork of varied colors, on looking closer, they reveal mosaic-like patterns which reflect the concept of ‘repetition’ — a frequent occurrence in Yuan’s work.

A close-up of the work reveals Yuan’s skillful depiction of mosaic-like patterns on the glass panels

This concept of repetition is particularly pertinent, as Yuan believes it to be synonymous with the general principle of modern society, “a principle that consumes us and assimilates our living space”. The monotony and bleakness of our urban lives is thus manifest in this simple structure of a window that bears residual traces of human activity and histories despite the painting being devoid of man.

In its repeated appearances in art, this ubiquitous everyday element has come to be a poignant symbol used by artists in a variety of ways. Windows allow for illumination, but can also be sources of mystery by leaving us curious about what lies beyond them. Their transparency supports our attempts to engage with the world beyond our four walls, visually and emotionally, sometimes acting as a mirror to an artist’s emotional state. With the versatility of their appearances in works of art, it would not be an overstatement to say that the windows in art are windows to the world.

Next: for more works that draw on windows as a motif or theme, see the works of

  1. Robert Delaunay’s Simultaneous Windows (2nd Motif, 1st Part) 1912
  2. Agnes Martin‘s Window 1957 (also check out this blog post on Agnes Martin by Hannah Kettles, a fellow Student Ambassador)
  3. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Loverboy) 1989
  4. Banksy’s Window on the West Bank (2005)

I’m Constance Koh, a student ambassador for The Art Story. I’m currently an intercollegiate student at UCL and SOAS studying Asian, African and European art history, with an interest in genre paintings and contemporary Asian art (amongst many others, the list goes on!). I believe art has immense potential to move and connect people, and contributing to a collective effort to make art more accessible is why I’m here. I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post.

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

Artemisia Gentileschi: The Long Road to Recognition

She’s described as the most celebrated female artist of the 17th-century but Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1656) struggled to carry this accolade through to the modern era. Though she is greatly revered by today’s artistic establishment, her journey towards acceptance has not been uncomplicated. Undeniably due to her gender, her legacy has faced many obstacles which delayed recognition for her artistic talent and contribution to art.

In recent decades, there have been strides towards acknowledging her place in art history thanks to feminist scholars, a growing literature, and retrospective exhibitions. But I would argue that the struggle for appropriate recognition is not over.

This blog will explore Artemisia Gentileschi’s road to discovery and recognition. She is, after decades of consideration, tantalisingly close to her rightful place in the history of art.

Artemisia Gentileschi in her Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1615–17). Gentileschi was born in 1593 in Rome as the eldest child of Prudenzia Montoni and the painter Orazio Gentileschi. After demonstrating a talent for painting at a young age, Gentileschi trained under her father in his workshop.

Gentileschi’s Initial Omission

Despite acclaim during her lifetime, Gentileschi suffered a great artistic injustice when she was omitted from art-historical accounts following her death. This was a sad reality that befell many female artists in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, including Sofonisba Anguissola and Judith Leyster. Gentileschi’s artistic vocation was only rediscovered in the early 1900s by the Caravaggesque scholar Roberto Longhi.

Once rediscovered, she did not easily gain admittance into the art-historical canon. Gentileschi initially sparked little interest among scholars, and many of her works were wrongly attributed to the legendary Italian artist Caravaggio or her father, Orazio Gentileschi.

In the 1990s, this work, Danae (1612), was attributed to Gentileschi due to its stylistic similarities with other works already accredited to her. But it was originally considered to be part of her father’s output. Orazio was a popular artist who worked internationally, and his style was greatly influenced by his friend Caravaggio.
This version of Danaë (1623) is accredited to Orazio Gentileschi. Note its obvious differences from Artemisia’s version: its idealisation versus Artemisia’s realism.

Her Stylistic Oversight

It was a combination of stylistic similarities to Caravaggio and Orazio, and a tendency in the 1900s to deny female artistry, that led to many of her works being misattributed. Certainly, Gentileschi’s paintings include Baroque characteristics such as chiaroscuro, drama, and emotion, which are typical of Caravaggio’s and Orazio’s style, but they also demonstrated a remarkable skill, which was believed to be exceptional to great masters.

Examining the paintings now accredited to Gentileschi, it’s perplexing that many were firstly attributed to canonical male artists. They clearly show she had a style unique from the artists who previously gained recognition for her work, one that was long overlooked.

Firstly, her choice and treatment of subject matter was quite different from other 17th-century artists. Though, like some, Gentileschi completed examples of widely popular biblical and mythological stories, she specifically favoured stories with strong female characters. She subverted the typical male portrayal of these female characters, timid and overtly sexual, by giving them power and agency. In her Susanna and the Elders (1610), Gentileschi replaced the typical shy and coy representation of Susanna with a model full of protestation and defence.
Secondly, her colour palette and formal decisions also highlight her stylistic independence. As exemplified in this painting, Esther before Ahasuerus (1628–30), her works featured less commitment to the Baroque chiaroscuro that made Caravaggio’s art so distinctive. Also visible is her penchant for jewel-toned hues and realistic flesh colours, a direct contrast to Orazio’s mundane colour palette and idealised figures, seen in his painting Danaë. (Above)

Feminist art historians since the 1970s have been committed to establishing Gentileschi’s style as part of the canon. The amount of works attributed to her have steadily increased and are greatly admired by scholars. But her art still remains somewhat tied to Caravaggio and her father. It’s common to see her artworks described as ‘inspired by’ or ‘indebted to’ her contemporaries rather than as products of her own individual genius. In fact, a February newspaper headline in The Guardian referred to Gentileschi specifically as ‘the female Caravaggio’. It sadly demonstrates that, even in 2020, she has not received full stylistic independence and, although undoubtedly intended as a compliment, she is measured by male artistic standards.

Reductive Biographical Readings

Undeniably, Gentileschi has emerged from behind the dark smoke of obscurity in recent years. But the sensationalism of one biographical event, a traumatic rape in 1611, has severely limited her potential. This event has become the hallmark of her character and the main axis on which her art is viewed.

Ultimately, because Gentileschi painted numerous scenes of violence and abuse, feminist readings in the 1970s interpreted these works as products of her sexual assault. Paintings such as Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620), which depict women punishing men, were and still are read as semi-autobiographical manifestations of Gentileschi’s desire for revenge on her own attacker. Branded popularly as her ‘revenge works’, they have been seen less as demonstrations of her notable artistic ability and more as feminist images that are tied to her biography and gender.

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (1610–15) tells the biblical story of Salome who is convinced by her vengeful mother Herodias to have John the Baptist beheaded for wrongdoings against her. It is seen as one of Gentileschi’s well-known ‘revenge works’. She has become infamous and recognisable for these dramatic and violent artworks, characterised by blood and gore. Art historians now look for links to retribution in many of her paintings, neglecting alternative readings.

In the 1980s, feminist scholars Mary Garrard and Griselda Pollock promoted alternative readings of Gentileschi’s ‘revenge works’, in an effort to expand and reveal her diverse artistic identity.

To illustrate, Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620), Gentileschi’s most famous ‘revenge work’, and possibly her most famous artwork in general, has been recurrently interpreted as a product of her rape. Art historians have envisioned Artemisia in the guise of Judith, enacting her violent revenge on her rapist Agostino Tassi, who, assuming the character of Holofernes, meets his untimely death by sword. Pollock proposed something different from this stock reading, suggesting that, instead of having a personal connection, it was intended powerfully as a story of courage and collaboration between two women who conspire to commit murder.
It’s often forgotten that biblical stories like Judith were popular subjects within Baroque art and male artists like Caravaggio completed their own versions. His Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598–99) is strikingly similar in terms of its violence and gore but it is viewed as a feat of artistic mastery rather than being personally motivated. Gentileschi’s artworks are scarcely interpreted this way, with scholars frequently looking for ties to her gender and sexual assault. As Gentileschi herself remarked on the difficulty of being a woman, ‘if I were a man, I can’t imagine it would have turned out this way’.

The centrality of Gentileschi’s sexual assault to her artistic character has meant that works outside of the ‘revenge’ category are scarcely considered, even though these works encompass more than three quarters of her identified output.

Little attention is paid to her artworks with seemingly less dramatic subjects such as the Birth of John the Baptist (1635), the Madonna and Child (1613) and the Adoration of the Magi (1636–37) as seen above. During her lifetime, these works were significant commissions, which helped her to establish her position as a sought-after female artist in the 17th-century. But, since they don’t fit her typical style or dominant reading, their possible meanings and importance have been less explored.
This artwork, David and Goliath (1630), was recently attributed to Gentileschi, now that her style and presence in the canon is more greatly known, but it was previously attributed to a student in Orazio’s workshop. It exemplifies the different subjects that Gentileschi did complete, but is not commonly recognised for. Perhaps it wasn’t initially accredited to her because the subject was not seen as traditionally ‘Artemisia’.

Female Artists in the Age of #metoo

As a result of the modern climate, numerous news headlines have labelled Gentileschi a ‘#metoo Baroque heroine’. This label effaces the important work accomplished by Pollock, Garrard, and other scholars, who offer less biographical interpretations of her work. Associating her with the #metoo movement perpetrates the reductive readings of her artistic character being mostly shaped by her sexual assault. Her art is not just a product of her rape, or even a product of other artists, but it’s continually viewed that way, overshadowing other readings and aspects of her impressive career.

While modern scholars do promote significant facts – such as Gentileschi being the first female accepted into the Academia delle Arti del Disegno, or the fact that she worked internationally for Cosimo II de’ Medici and Charles I of England – they are realistically lesser known, but are and should be integral to her legacy.

The majority of the work has been done; Gentileschi today is widely celebrated in art history, but her diverse and unique contribution is still being somewhat overlooked. Until her talent and oeuvre are wholly appreciated, the step to complete recognition could still be a giant leap.

This October the National Gallery in London is opening the first UK solo exhibition on Artemisia Gentileschi. Watch this video to find out more information about Gentileschi and also the upcoming exhibition.

Hi, my name is Katie Price and I’m a Student Ambassador for the second cohort at The Art Story. I’m currently a second-year student at the University of Birmingham studying a joint-honours in history and history of art. Personally, I love the fact that art provides access to the past and a way to understand it, through analysing the processes and products of human creativity from different periods.

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

Sol LeWitt – Why is this art!?

Just as Pablo Picasso challenged realistic forms of presenting a human and Vincent van Gogh revolutionized colour, Sol LeWitt pushed the boundaries and definition of what constitutes art. His art focused on the concept of art rather than the physical craft of making art objects. Working as a night receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art let him become friends with future art critic Lucy Lippard and artists Dan Flavin, Robert Mangold, and Robert Ryman. And he was introduced to the work of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella and Jasper Johns, who influenced his later career. Admiring their art made the young LeWitt think that an idea behind an artwork was more significant than its material form.

In 1967, in his essay Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, LeWitt claimed, “When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all the planning and decisions are made beforehand, and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” Abandoning the belief that the role of an artist is to be a craftsman, he decided to approach art from a different angle. He was guided by the idea that creative thoughts in the head are more important than products made by hand. “The idea,” he said, “becomes the machine that makes the art”.

If art is a creative human activity that stimulates emotionally and intellectually, then Sol LeWitt’s works are most certainly art. They make us question the things we’ve been taught by history and allow us to experience colours, spaces, and structures differently. All famous artists have been remembered because they were creating something new and very often incomprehensible to their contemporaries.

LeWitt’s Wall Drawings – They look easy, but they are not.

Detail Of Sol LeWitt’s 1971 Wall Drawing #65 At The National Gallery Of Art (Washington, DC)

The creative works of this artist can be compared to the work of an architect or composer. They give rise to magnificent structures and songs, but without workers and musicians, these great ideas could not be experienced by an audience. Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings could not be admired by the audience if it weren’t for other artists and museum staff who install them. The Wall Drawings are site-specific installations that begin as instructions written by LeWitt and are then executed by others. In consequence, every mural will be different as it will be prepared in a different place by different people. While the drawings often appear simple, preparations take up to a few months, and the process involves many precise calculations, planning, and specialised equipment. 

Watch this video to see how the Wall Drawings are created.

Sol LeWitt designed more than 1,250 Wall Drawings that raise a lot of controversies. Whenever museums and collectors acquire a Wall Drawing, they receive a certificate with LeWitt’s instructions for the creation of the mural, but many questions arise: What is the actual work of art here? Is it the painting on a wall? The piece of paper with instructions? Or is it the intangible idea itself? Adding to the complexity, the drawings on the walls are ephemeral: most of them are exhibited only temporarily in a gallery or museum and then simply painted over, but the intangible idea of the drawing remains immutable. That is also why LeWitt’s art is so different. Very often, the way we view artists’ works change when curators present them with a different narrative. The reading of the Wall Drawings will always remain the same because their feature is that they will always be drawn or painted in a different way by someone else. 

Wall drawing by Sol LeWitt.

According to the artist, Conceptual Art is “made to engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions”. I look at LeWitt’s Conceptual Art as another step in art history. From idealized ancient sculptures, breath-taking paintings in the vaults of basilicas, and inspirational political posters and collages, Sol LeWitt asks us to rethink everything we know about art, not only as the end product of many years of painting and sculpting practice, but also as ideas, philosophies, and beliefs.

View of the Gallery 2 of the Centre Pompidou-Metz during the 2012 Sol LeWitt retrospective exhibition, Wall drawings from 1968 to 2007, Metz, France,_Metz.jpg

If you would like to learn more about Sol LeWitt’s life and his other artworks, you can read it on The Art Story website.

Written by Zofia Nowakowska, Student Ambassador for The Art Story. I recently, graduated with a BA Fine Art from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. I’m passionate about conceptual and socially-engaged art, and my research focuses on the impact of digitalisation on the art world.

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

When museums went online: a guided tour of world galleries’ online online.

As buildings around the world started to lock their doors last March, and the public turned to the internet to provide yoga classes, at-home gigs, and sour dough recipes, many art galleries also started finding ways to share their collections virtually. Suddenly we had the opportunity to explore collections from museums across the world from our own homes. Here I share a list of some of my favourite lockdown finds, to which I expect to return, even as galleries re-open. The list is skewed towards the larger international museums with the resources to produce such high quality content. Furthermore, it is highly digested, so I recommend falling down your own rabbit hole of online culture.

Offering #1: Virtual Tours

View from the Rijksmuseum –

Through the Google Arts and Culture programme, some major museums now offer virtual tours of their collections. I find the street-view style interface tricky to navigate, however, and the artworks difficult to connect with. Some have launched their own interactive virtual tours with more success. The Rijksmuseum’s Masterpieces Up Close project is limited to the most famous of its paintings, but is nonetheless impressive. Virtual visitors click and drag their way through the museum, stopping to listen to audio-guide style descriptions of the collection. Highlights include Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (c. 1660), and a brilliant presentation on Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642). Some of the sound effects may be more creepy than immersive, but there is a genuine pleasure in being able to explore a museum at one’s own pace again.

Also worth a look is the British Museum’s virtual offering. The graphics encourage random picking and choosing of objects, but the thoughtful links to other objects and colour-coded themes keep the visitor moving seamlessly.

Offering #2: YouTube Curator Presentations

A great place to start is London’s National Gallery’s channel. Not only does it have an impressive back catalogue of educational offerings, but the gallery’s team has been busy uploading quality content since the beginning of lockdown. Their series ‘A curated look at…’ is a particular highlight. For around 15 minutes, a curator will discuss several of the gallery’s pictures on one theme, while the camera zooms in on the brushwork.

Another lovely series is the ‘Five minute meditations’. As the title suggests, these are quick guided meditations that begin with breath control à la the popular Headspace app. They then move into a mindful examination of a work of art, encouraging you to lose yourself in the paintwork. Mindfulness may or may not be your thing, but I do encourage you to full-screen the video and pull on some headphones for these. In this video, based on JMW Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam and Speed (1844)’, the camera pulls out details that I had never noticed, taking the viewer nose to nose with the canvas.  

If you have half an hour to spare, years’ worth of recorded lectures are also available from the national gallery. These sit the viewer in front of one of the gallery’s most popular paintings, always well-presented by top art historians.

The Met Museum in New York has also gone back to its archives to engage a lockdown audience.  The series From the Vaults ranges from a silent 1928 behind-the-scenes film to 1980s documentaries. They are well worth a browse.

Offering #3: Online Exhibitions

More victims of lockdown were the temporary exhibitions, which galleries were forced to close. The curators of the Ashmolean Museum’s Young Rembrandt exhibition in Oxford, England, were quick to respond. Here, curator An Van Camp introduces the collection, alongside an excellent online guide.

Unmissable too is the National Gallery of Victoria’s virtual rendering of its recent Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines exhibition. Their bold graphic art lends itself well to the virtual space, and the program is easy to navigate.

Honorary Mentions:

Though I do not think that any of these resources can fully replace the physical experience of wandering a gallery and getting nose to nose with the artwork, I expect that museums will continue to explore these virtual display cases. They are a great opportunity to expand their worldwide presence, not to mention improving art access and education. I am now looking forward to returning to these galleries with new insight found while lockdown culture surfing.

I’m Teresa Macnab, and I am acting as a Student Ambassador for the second cohort @ The Art Story this summer. I have just graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Classics, during which I took as many art history modules as possible! I’m interested in the interaction between literary and art history to tell stories, particularly in the ancient world.

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

Embodying Post-war Angst: Kazuo Shiraga’s Choreographies

The Gutai Group outside the Gutai Pinacotheca, which functioned as the group’s headquarters. In 1962, Shriaga had a solo exhibition at the facility.
Copyright – Fair Use

One defining moment of the Second World War was the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which led to Japan’s surrender to the United States in 1945. The event was perceived through fatalistic lenses, as an inevitable catastrophe which nobody had control over. After the unimaginable destruction following the war, the strained diplomatic relations between Japan and America were rapidly re-established in the 1950s, and the subsequent internationalism spurred reactionary artistic ideas. A group of artists called the Gutai Group (1954-72) responded to the newfound liberation from totalitarianism by rejecting traditional art styles and ‘[doing] what no one has done before’ (quoting the founder, Jiro Yoshihara). Gutai, written as 具体, consists of the characters for ‘tool’ and ‘body’, and translates as ‘embodiment’ or ‘concreteness’. The group sought modernism and an authentic reflection of the post-war human condition, rejecting representative art, while championing individual expression.

One artist chose to get his feet wet – literally – in copious amounts of oil paint thrown onto canvases on the ground, which he glided across, and manipulated the paint into textural pieces, left to dry as relics of his performance. The performative works of Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008) are, for me, one of the most visceral representations of post-war psyche in Japan among the Gutai works. From the full-body execution of his paintings, to the reds and blacks that feature so strongly in his works, all elements reflect the physicality and bloodshed that accompanies war. In doing so, he developed his own technique of ‘feet painting’ and broke away from academic traditions.

History of Shiraga’s feet paintings

Before becoming a Gutai member, Shiraga was already experimenting with substituting the brush for his body as a painting tool. He started painting with his fingernails in 1953, and then with his feet the year after. In 1955, having joined the Gutai Group, the performative element of his feet paintings expanded as he took his canvas outside the studio and invited the press to watch while he performed. In the Shiraga Family Kimono Store, Shiraga would suspend himself from the ceiling and slide across his canvas below, aided by thick dollops of paint. Rejecting representational art and seeking to show ‘traces of action carried out with speed’, this process removed a certain degree of control from Shiraga, as his entire body weight caused him to swing across the canvas in a pendulum-like motion. This concept of physicality forms a significant part of his oeuvre.

An integral part of making his feet paintings is the collaborative process with his wife, Fujiko Uemura, who advised him on colours and performed alongside Shiraga, preparing oil paints. Most pertinent are her records of Shiraga’s dreams in the form of ‘dream notes’, which Shiraga would refer to for inspiration. A line from one notebook reads: “A man in white kimono, swiftly draws his sword. My sword gleams as I hurl it at him. It slashes his face, bright red blood gushes in every direction.” This visceral quality of his dreams manifests itself frequently in his works as a crimson lake of paint which Shiraga was particularly inclined to creating, stating that “[the colour] reeked of blood”, expressing the raw emotions in his striking works fuelled by post-war angst.

Torimono (1958) – View larger image on Google Images

Take for example Torimono (1958). The reds and blacks create a brooding and solemn colour scheme, while the canvas presents diverse textures where Shiraga has manipulated the paint with his feet. We can observe smooth streaks of paint where he glided across the canvas, raised ridges where fresh paint disturbed older layers which had yet to dry, and thick mounds where paint coalesced, creating a painting almost sculptural in its depth. What stands out the most to me is how we are able to trace his movements across the canvas, the portions where he went back and forth, and the parts where his feet grazed the canvas.

Shiraga’s action paintings may bring to mind the works of Jackson Pollock, but I would like to explore the comparisons made between these two great artists.  Critic Dore Ashton, who was a strong proponent of the Abstract Expressionists, dismissed Shiraga’s works as derivative of Pollock’s in 1958. While Shiraga was inspired by photographs of Pollock painting by Hans Namuth, he was more taken with the impulsive energy of Pollock’s approach, which he sought to utilise in his works. Their artistic products also differed in one aspect – borrowing an observation from Guggenheim curator Alexander Munroe, we may observe patterns of nature, lavender mist or ocean greyness, in Pollock’s works, but we can never observe ‘things’ in Shiraga’s. So while both took their canvases off the easel and rejected representation, their intentions differed, and dismissing Shiraga’s works as mere imitation overlooks the significance of his unique manipulation of paint and emotionally-charged intentions.  

Today, Shiraga’s works have been shifted from their stage on the ground up on to gallery walls, but we should refrain from thinking of these canvases as static paintings, as it was the act of painting with his feet, rather than the finished painting itself, that fulfilled Shiraga’s objective. In Shiraga’s words: “Rather than painting and establishing a picture, and trying to make it remain, I got to the point where it didn’t matter whether it remained.” One may point out that, given Shiraga was working on canvases, does that not reveal his intention of making his paintings last? Actually, Shiraga’s pre-1957 paintings were executed on Japanese paper – an ephemeral material – before meeting Michel Tapié, who advised him to shift to canvas to appeal to western audiences. Hence, Shiraga’s intentions did not lie with creating lasting works or specific compositions, but with actions and expressions that embodied his post-war angst.

By using his body as an artmaking tool, Shiraga achieved a wide range of motion across the canvas on which he performed his choreographies. His avant-garde approach was symbolic of post-war angst and the aspirational spirit of post-war Japan as it advanced towards modernity and autonomy. Although he kept within the confines of his canvas while painting, his artistic practice pushed boundaries and formed a sensitive response to the age.

Next: Click to find out more about Gutai, Art Informel, Performance Art, Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock, Japanese Artists and other Japanese Art Movements and Styles.

Hi there! I’m Constance Koh, a student ambassador for The Art Story. I’m currently an intercollegiate student at UCL and SOAS studying Asian, African and European art history, with an interest in genre paintings and contemporary Asian art (amongst many others, the list goes on!). I believe art has immense potential to move and connect people, and contributing to a collective effort to make art more accessible is why I’m here. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this little piece of work from me, and do keep a look out for more here on The Art Story!

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

Exclusive Modernism: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Marcel Duchamp.

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was a German artist, poet and pioneer of Performance Art, working in the early 20th century. Often adorned with extravagant found-object costumes she rejected the limitations of traditional mediums such as painting and sculpture. The publisher of The Little Review, Jane Heap, described the Baroness as “the first American dada […] dresses dada, loves dada, lives dada”.

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, untitled, 1900, photograph: glass negative, 12.7 x 17.78 cm, George Grantham Bain Collection.

‘The Baroness’, as she was known, was a true embodiment of the movement. Why, then, was she not celebrated in her lifetime, ultimately dying in poverty with very limited success of her ground-breaking works? When we look back at Dada, Marcel Duchamp is hailed as the most influential figure of this movement (and the very father of Conceptual Art, a god-like status for the artist), however, the Baroness’ work paralleled his experimentation with the nature of the art object.

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, God, 1917, photograph Gelatin silver print, 24.1 x 19.2 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Photographed by Morton Schamberg).
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, porcelain urinal, 36 x 48 x 61 cm, (Photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, gelatin silver print, College of Art and Design Collection). Duchamp’s original 1917 sculpture photographed by Stieglitz was lost however, a reproduction is housed at the Tate Modern, London.,_1917,_Fountain,_photograph_by_Alfred_Stieglitz.jpg

From her early sentiments of desire and admiration, the Baroness had a change of heart towards Duchamp in the 1920s. Her poem Graveyard Surrounding Nunnery (1921) starts with the lines “When I was/ Young—foolish—/ I loved Marcel Dushit”. This scathing comment underlines the animosity she felt towards him. In another poem, Café du Dome (1927), published in the year of her death, the Baroness criticised the recognition and success that male figures received for their work while her accomplishments were largely ignored. Again, the Baroness directly refers to Duchamp with the line “Marcelled—”. By converting his name into a verb, she presents the elevation of Duchamp’s status and success within the art world as a common occurrence. Male artists are “Marcelled” into success, while the Baroness’ triumphs are overlooked. In the first line, the Baroness portrays her frustration by replacing the ordinarily used expression “for the love of God” to “For the love of Mike!”, substituting God with a contemporary male name, thus elevating the male figure to a divine status. Later in the poem, the male image is presented as a Christ figure on the cross with suctiondiscs, alluding to nails in his palms and “Topped avec rubberthistlewreath” as the crown of thorns. Significantly, the images which should invoke suffering, in this instance do not: sharp thorns and nails have been replaced with inoffensive rubber. The Baroness uses God imagery to ridicule Duchamp’s status and present him as a false prophet, which subverts the very language she once used to express her admiration, calling him her only God. The poem refers to both the Baroness’ criticism of Duchamp and the gendered exclusiveness of the art world.

Café du Dôme in Paris, a popular site in Paris for artists, literati and eccentrics to frequent at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Another example of the Baroness’ criticism of Duchamp can be seen in her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp (1920-22). The abstract portrait is an assemblage of collected found objects: fishing lure, metal cogs, and feathers bursting out of a wine glass in an extravagant display. The overall image of the sculpture is hectic. It is busy with objects that distract the viewer, and the showy exterior potentially conceals a lack of substance referring to the Baroness’ view on Duchamp. Fundamentally, though, there is no value or substance to these objects. Many elaborate elements refer to the sitter, the ostentatious peacock feathers protrude outwards, alluding to Duchamp’s female alter ego Rrose Sélavy, which he used in many of his artworks. However, it is possible that the Baroness was presenting Duchamp as a rare bird and praising his creative endeavors, but it is more likely intended to mock the artist. The trinket-like collection of items acts as a physical embodiment of the Baroness’ view that Duchamp’s work is insubstantial, echoing her poems.

The Baroness’ view on Duchamp changes throughout decades of working alongside him. Male artists have contributed to the development of Modernism, being recognised for the achievements and developments in their fields, whereas the Baroness and other female artists were, until the recently, almost forgotten in the narrative of Modernism, or more often relegate ed to the male artist’s muse. The Baroness often addresses the exclusivity of the modern art world in her work. The difference in acceptance between Duchamp’s and the Baroness’ artwork reveals a patriarchal society and calls for a reexamination of rejected or lost female artists. 

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, 1920-22, Found object sculpture peacock feathers, a gear wire, fishing lure and a wine glass, Photograph: platinum silver print, 20.3 x 15.2 cm. (Photographed by Charles Sheeler and published in The Little review Vol. 9, no. 2, page 41).

Next: choose to explore to explore further these artists and movements:
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
Marcel Duchamp
Readymade and The Found Object

Sarah Daniels is a recent Fine Art and Art History graduate from Plymouth University and part of the second cohort of Student Ambassadors for The Art Story. She has an interest in the reception of women artists and the depiction of the female form in Modernism and plans to pursue a career in art writing and museum/gallery roles.

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

The Classical Male Nude and its Damaging Legacy

Wandering the rooms of Europe’s most prestigious art institutions, it would be natural to find numerous striking examples of classical male nudes. Whether you are looking at Michelangelo’s statue of David in the ‎Galleria dell’Accademia or Caravaggio’s painting Victorious Cupid at the Gemäldegalerie, no doubt you will be overcome with admiration for their artistry and magnificence. In that awestruck moment, you might not realise how influential these classical representations of the body have been for the perception of male gender throughout history, nor how damaging.

I would argue that what has traditionally and stereotypically been defined as ‘male’ can be traced through the history of the classical male nude.

Michelangelo’s David, located at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, is the epitome of what comes to mind when thinking about the classical male nude.

The history of the male nude

The tradition of the nude in Western art originates from Ancient Greece, where the naked male body was celebrated throughout society and in artistic representations. Sculptors chose to honour their gods and warriors with nude statues, applying increasingly realistic human features. Statues became a convenient canvas for sculptors to explore the personality traits and ideal characteristics that the Greeks believed epitomised the male gender. Men, seen as the superior and canonical sex, were associated with power, strength and moral excellence. Gradually, the representation of the male body looking muscular, powerful, alert, balanced, and flawless developed to parallel Greek concepts.

An example of the style of the male nude from antiquity is provided by this Roman recreation of the Greek Polykleitos’ sculpture of Doryphoros (120-50 BCE). Countless male nude sculptures have survived and are housed today in major European art institutions.

Even though the nude was unpopular in the Middle Ages, its classical style was revived during the Renaissance where it was accepted as the ideal representation of the male gender. The male nude quickly became the pinnacle of artistic practice, an important motif for aspiring artists to master and central to grand biblical and historical paintings. In its well-established classical form, the male nude retained its supremacy within high art and was largely unchanged until the 19th century.

Jacques-Louis David’s painting, Leonidas at Thermopylae (1814), provides an example of the unaltered form of the classical male nude, even by 1814. The muscular and alert figure established in antiquity is visible here in this Neoclassical history painting. Neoclassicism helped to preserve the classical male nude as it reinvigorated antique styles and kept it as a central motif within historical paintings.

How has the classical male nude historically damaged the perception of male gender?

With an understanding of the classical definition and representation of the masculine sex, it is obvious that modern society has witnessed little progression towards different perceptions. For instance, even now men continue to be thought of as strong and powerful and are arguably still the superior sex in society. Moreover, the classical depiction of the male body, muscular and flawless, has persisted as the ‘ideal’ form for the male gender.

If you think about 21st century society, isn’t the ideal male body, though starkly different from the average man, still evidently present and indeed coveted? Examples of it are readily found and promoted, not only in the classical sculptures and paintings integrated into western culture, but now in magazines, and advertisements, and on TV programmes and social media platforms.

But, the stereotype of ‘the ideal male’ has had a damaging influence, where men collectively face pressure to look and act the endorsed way. As clearly established in classical representations, men must look strong and honed, while demonstrating their invulnerability. Undeniably, society unfavourably views and discourages displaying traits outside of the ‘ideal’, such as fragility and feebleness. Ultimately, the legacy of the classical male nude has resulted in restrictions on the diversity of the male figure and a distorted male identity.

What are artists doing to combat this?

The implications of the ideal male nude have yet to be explored thoroughly by art historians. Artists, however, have been challenging its damaging stereotypes since the end of the 19th century with revolutionary depictions of non-idealised male bodies. Forerunners in the fight to counter stereotypes and re-evaluate male identity include Egon Schiele, David Hockney and Robert Mapplethorpe. These artists shattered the constrictive mould of the classical male nude by creating new styles and highlighting alternative characteristics in their representations of the naked male body.

Egon Schiele, and also Lucian Freud much later in the 20th century, challenged idealisation by experimenting with ‘anti-heroic’ male figures. Painting from strange angles and with intense colours, Schiele contorted and deformed the male body to the point where it became almost frightening and uncomfortable to view.

Schiele’s ‘anti-heroic’ male body can be seen in his Self-Portrait with Splayed Fingers (1911).
With Freud’s non-idealised male nudes, exemplified here in his Naked Man with Rat (1977), the artist explored the reality of fleshy, flawed, and unflattering bodies.
View larger image on Google Images

In the 1960s, David Hockney questioned the tradition of overt ‘masculinity’ in male nudes by patenting a tender and more feminine body. He incorporated untraditional vulnerability and taboo homoeroticism into his brightly coloured scenes of male nudity.

Hockney’s Man in Shower in Beverly Hills (1964), portraying a man with a graceful figure bending down in the shower, is a typical example of Hockney’s intimate male nudity scenes.
View larger image on Google Images

In his well-known photographs of male genitalia, Robert Mapplethorpe assigned greater sexuality and a new submissiveness to the male body. Displayed in the 1970s, they were extremely controversial during a period when full frontal male nudity was still sensitive, especially in the explicit way that Mapplethorpe championed. His intention was to utilise confrontational depictions of genitalia to demonstrate the inherent, but traditionally hidden, sexuality of the male body.

Mark Stevens (Mr. 10 ½) (1976) is a poignant example of Mapplethorpe’s beautiful black-and-white explicit photography. Modern representations such as Mapplethorpe’s show that the classical male nude of Ancient Greece or the Renaissance has evolved beyond the point of recognition. Artists in the 20th century ensured that there was no longer a stock style to the male body, by showing the infinite possibilities of representation.
View larger image on Google Images

As I have reasoned, by understanding the history of the classical male nude, you can begin to understand society’s stereotypical and somewhat harmful perception of the male gender. The next chapter of its history is being crafted by dissatisfied modern artists who are redefining the representation of men in art with their powerful and revolutionary nude images.

Hi, my name is Katie Price and I’m a Student Ambassador for the second cohort at The Art Story. I’m currently a second-year student at the University of Birmingham studying a joint-honours in history and history of art. Personally, I love the fact that art provides access to the past and a way to understand it, through analysing the processes and products of human creativity from different periods.

Student Ambassadors Program Overview

The male gaze made marble: The Aphrodite of Knidos by the Ancient Greek Praxiteles

In mid-fourth-century-BCE Athens, a sculptor named Praxiteles created a statue whose artistic and cultural impact has been felt across Western Art for the subsequent two-and-a-half-thousand years. The Aphrodite of Knidos is considered to be the first ever full female nude in ancient Greek art. She stands with one hand holding a towel, the other loosely covering her genitals. Clearly the goddess is preparing to bathe, and the viewer has stumbled into a private moment. In Greek mythology, a mortal who accidentally glimpses such a sight might be turned into a stag and torn apart by his own dogs in punishment. But the viewer here is safe to gaze. Aphrodite’s face is calm, and she has not spotted you. 

The Aphrodite of Knidos entered legend almost at the moment of her creation. First-century-AD Roman writer Pliny the Elder described how the city of Cos, to whom Praxiteles originally offered the statue, was horrified at her nakedness and turned it down. Knidos, to whom Praxiteles then offered her, was canny enough to accept. She soon became a major tourism draw to the city where she was publicly displayed. Reports then circulated that she was modelled after Praxiteles’ rumoured mistress, the famous courtesan Phryne. In the second century BCE, poems were popularly written about it, such as this one by Antipater of Sidon, which imagined the goddess mortified at its lifelikeness:

‘As Venus looked upon the Venus on Knidos she said: “Alas! How came Praxiteles to see me bare?”

 In a later story the statue even gains a death toll. According to legend, a young man had fallen in love with it, but, after the humiliation of being discovered attempting to physically consummate his love with the marble, threw himself off a cliff.

Thus, the context of production and historical reception of the Aphrodite has been deeply eroticised, ever driven by the male reaction to the female nude. In Classical Athenian society, women were barely allowed out of the home, let alone displayed so brazenly naked in public art. Furthermore, the shock that this statue created in the fourth century BCE stemmed also from its departure from established artistic traditions. As far as we know, the Aphrodite of Knidos stands as the first ever female nude sculpture in classical art, despite a long tradition of heroic male nudes. Compare her, for example, to the demure korai,which stand on the Athenian acropolis. Praxiteles was also one of the first ever Greek artists to make free-standing sculptures from marble, moving on from the traditional cast bronze. The realistic flesh-like qualities of marble made the sculpture’s exposed breasts and curves yet more shocking to its audience.

This statue began a long tradition of female nudes in Western art. Even aside from the many straight copies of the statue, her influence can be seen in later works. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (c.1484-86) clearly borrows the modest gestures and contrapposto grace of the Knidos. Later artists begin to deconstruct Praxiteles’ model of passive subject and active viewer. Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1534) recalls the statue, but in a reclining position. This Venus, however, stares the viewer boldly in the face, and the hand on her genitals seems to touch more than hide. The slight smile of Titian’s model aims for a more intimate viewer relationship, as the painting was made for a single patron’s private collection. This painting has a mirror image in Manet’s Olympia (1863), though the model’s stiff pose and tense hand makes for a less comfortable image of Parisian prostitution. The uproar when it was first publicly exhibited in 1865 at the Paris Salon clearly proved that the shock of the female nude had not yet subsided.

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), The Birth of Venus
Titian (1490-1576), Venus of Urbino
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

The Venus Pudica, or modest Venus trope, that is seen again and again throughout Western art, can thus largely be traced back to this one statue. Yet all the artworks mentioned have in common a male artist displaying the female body with varying degrees of agency. The Aphrodite of Knidos is an artwork of wonderful grace and sensitivity. Its audience, however, has to contend with its role as an active—voyeuristic—viewer of an idealised and passive subject.   

I’m Teresa Macnab, and I am acting as a Student Ambassador for the second cohort @ The Art Story this summer. I have just graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Classics, during which I took as many art history modules as possible! I’m interested in the interaction between literary and art history to tell stories, particularly in the ancient world.