The mirror is the focal point of the whole composition. It has often been noted that two tiny figures can be seen reflected in it, their image captured as they cross the threshold of the room. They are the painter himself and a young man, perhaps arriving to act as witnesses to the marriage. The essential point, however, is the fact that the convex mirror is able to absorb and reflect in a single image both the floor and the ceiling of the room, as well as the sky and the garden outside, both of which are otherwise barely visible through the side window. The mirror thus acts as a sort of hole in the texture of space. It sucks the entire visual world into itself, transforming it into a representation.
The portrayal of the woman&apos;s open right palm, facing the viewer, must have been very important to the painter, so much so, that he drew the man&apos;s left arm somewhat incorrectly: it is too short and the slightly upward turning wrist is anatomically incorrect. As an explanation it is therefore assumed that the open palm is an allusion to the marriage engagement.
Ncc art100 ch.7
Exploring Art:A Global,Thematic Approach
Reproduction and Sexuality
The Promise of Fertility
• Art as sympathetic magic in the promise
– Fertility gods and goddesses – Mother
Goddesses from the Paleolithic and
– Fertility figures – to aid in human
– Rituals – mystical images and enactments
Henry Moore, Draped Reclining Mother and Baby, 1983 bronze 104.5’ Fukuoka
Art Museum, Japan
Moore references both modern and ancient art—visual expression of human
Venus of Willendorf, Austria, c.15,000-20,000BCE 4 3/8”
Idol from Amorgos, Cycladic Islands off Greece, 25,000-23,000BCE marble 30”
Female burial figureFertility figure?
Cycladic/early Minoan: 2500-2000 BC
Female figure, c. 2500-2200 BCE
Art of the Ancient Aegean
Ancient peoples placed figurines like this
in grave sites. Their lack of eyes and
mouths--as well as their folded arms-- was
perhaps intended to depict death. Their
gender may indicate that they represented
deceased men's wives or a mother
The size and style of Cycladic figurines
varies greatly. Some are among the
earliest naturalistic sculptures discovered
in the Mediterranean area. Others, like this
example, are highly abstract.
GodTe Rongo and HisThree Sons. Wood, 273/8"
Cook Islands, Polynesia, c. 1800–1900s.
The British Museum, London.
This male figure has three carved figures on the
chest and two on each of the arms. Only one
other similar figure is known, which has carved
figures on the chest and buttocks. An old label
describes the figure as a depiction of the
Rarotongan god Te Rongo and his three sons.
It has also been suggested that the figure
represents the Polynesian god of creation,
The large penis—virility.
Bamana Female Figure. Wood and brass,
21" high. Mali,Africa, 1947.
Most fertility figures were likely
connected with now-lost rituals.
These figures were idealized youthful
females.They have prominent conical
breasts that project sharply from a
flattened chest, exaggerated buttocks,
and cylindrical arms, legs and torsos.
Young unmarried Bamana men use
nyeleni sculpture to represent the ideal
marriageable woman they hope to find
as a wife and partner.
An Asante legend holds that a woman named
Akua, who was barren, was instructed to
commission a small, female, child statue and to
care for the doll as if it were real. She did so, until
she conceived and successfully gave birth to a
The Akua'ba dolls are commissioned by women
wanting to conceive or desiring a healthy and
safe pregnancy of both male and female children.
"After the akua'ba is blessed by the fertility deity
in rites conducted by a priest, the women carries
it and treats it like a real child; she adorns it with
beads and earrings, 'nurses' it, and puts it to bed.
After a successful birth, a mother may give the
akua'ba doll to a daughter to play with or use it to
teach child care (Seiber and Walker 44). The doll
is female due to the matrilineage of the Asante
society. Women also desire female children to
help them with raising sibilinss and doing
Akua'ba Fertility Figure
Primordial and Human Couples
• Explore the Dogon primordial couple
– The primordial couple epitomizes
– the ideal social pairing and
– commemorates the creation of the world.
• Human couples in creation myths
Primordial…existing at or before the beginning of time
Dogon Primordial Couple, Mali
This work's scale and complexity have led scholars
to suggest that it may have been created for display
at the funerals of influential Dogon men. The graphic
composition constitutes an eloquent statement
concerning the distinct and yet complementary roles
of male and female partners as a unit of life. With
understated elegance and an economy of details,
the artistic distills man and woman to a perfectly
integrated and harmonious union. One of the most
striking aspects of the representation is the degree
of bilateral symmetry that describes man and
woman as reflections of each other with delicate and
subtle departures that indicate their distinct
identities. The figures' elongated bodies are
depicted as a series of parallel vertical lines
traversed by horizontals that draw them together.
On the reverse side a small child clinging to the
female's back is balanced by a quiver on the back of
the male. That concluding pair of features
distinguishes their respective role as nurturer and
provider joined together to procreate and sustain
The Expulsion from Paradise, Italy, 1427. Fresco
Drama—anguish, pain, shame.
Masaccio modeled his figures using soft
contrasts of values and color.
Dogon Primordial Couple,
Mali, Africa, c. 19th-20th
The Expulsion from
Paradise, Italy, 1427.
Giovanni Arnolfini, a
prosperous Italian banker
who had settled in Bruges,
and his wife Giovanna
Cenami, stand side by side in
the bridal chamber, facing
towards the viewer.The
husband is holding out his
“Johannes de Eyck fuit hic
1434 (Jan van Eyck was
• It is uncertain that the picture
depicts an actual marriage
ceremony.The Latin inscription
on the back wall, 'Jan van Eyck
was here/1434', has been
interpreted as the artist's
witness to their marriage, but
may simply attest to his
authorship of the painting,
• his creation of 'here'.
The mirror is the focal point of
the whole composition.
• The central motif of the
painting, the so-called
'joining of hands', has
long been recognized as
a special gesture with a
specific meaning. It has
been the subject of
debate for decades.
• Oranges placed on the
low table and the
windowsill are a reminder
of an original innocence,
of an age before sin.
Unless, that is, they are
not in fact oranges but
apples (it is difficult to be
certain), in which case
they would represent the
temptation of knowledge
and the Fall.
• The small dog
an emblem of
• The clogs and
taking of shoes
in a sacred
Menkaure and his Queen,
Dyn. IV c.2500 BCE
Son of Khafre, Grandson of Khufu.
Menkaure and his wife are idealized and
stylized, according to the Egyptian
It was meant to mark a lifetime, meant
for posterity and spiritual presence—and
to transmit information to viewers in the
Wedge-shaped ceremonial beard
Lovemaking, Sexuality, Gender
• Images of ideal sexuality
• The feminine body and the gaze
• Abstracted sexual imagery
Depictions of Lovemaking
• Peruvian Moche pots
– Likely made by women
– Buried with the dead
• Ukiyo, “floating world” subject matter from Japan
– Shunga prints
• Jeff Koons’s pieces
– Blur the boundary between art and pop culture
• Hindu depictions from India
• The album “Poem of the Pillow” is a
masterpiece of erotic works by Utamaro.
• Ignoring stereotypical scenes, he uses a low
viewpoint and places the large figures so
they seem to expand beyond the frame.
Kitagawa Utamaro, Lovers in an upstairs room, from Uta makura ('Poem of the
Pillow'), a color woodblock print
Erotia—gently and intimately erotic—private moment of closeness
Interplay of pattern and line of the kimonos—echoes the intertwining of bodies
Made in Heaven 1989
Lithograph on paper on canvas
3180 x 6910 mm
Number 2 in an edition of 3
The billboard Made in Heaven and the Art Magazine Ads use
standard advertising methods and were made to publicize the
project. Koons reflects upon the power of consumer industries
and the aesthetics and culture of taste.
Krishna and Radha in a
Pavilion, India, from Punjab, c.
1760. Opaque watercolor on
paper, 11” X 7 1/4”.
Indian Love Legend
It is believed that Krishna
enchants the world, but Radha
enchants even Him.
The topic is the spiritual love
affair between the divine
Krishna and his devotee Radha.
Images of ideal erotic
sexuality were relatively
common in Indai
Loving couple (mithuna), Eastern Ganga
dynasty, 13th century
Orissa, India (Ferruginous stone; H. 72 in.)
Once part of the subsidiary decoration of a
Hindu temple facade, the figures of this
bejeweled couple embrace while peering
rapturously into each other's eyes.
Couples such as this pair are understood
to have multiple meanings, ranging from an
obvious celebration of life's pleasures to
the more metaphorical symbolism of a
human soul's longing for union with the
The Feminine Body and the Gaze
• Female nudes in Europe and the U.S. were
made for the male gaze
– Gaze completed sexual exchange implied in the
• Females alone in the painting
– Subject “available,” allowing viewer to
“consume” with his gaze
• Ingres’ Grande Odalisque
Venus of Urbino
oil on canvas
4 ft. x 5 ft. 6 in.
Ingres, Grande Odalisque, France, 1814
Nude Turkish harem woman—erotic image for European men
É douard Manet
oil on canvas
4 ft. 3 in. x 6 ft. 3 in.
LYNN HERSHMAN. Deep Contact.
installation at the Museum of
Modern Art, San Francisco. USA,
1990. Courtesy of the Artist.
HOW MASS MEDIA USES
SEXUALITY IN WESTERN
• Barbara Kruger uses pronouns that are
gender neutral, with no fixed subject, to
imply that attitudes about sexuality (as well
as race) are not fixed by nature.
During the early 1980s Barbara Kruger
perfected a signature style, using cropped,
large-scale, black-and-white photographic
images juxtaposed with raucous, pithy, and
often ironic aphorisms, printed in Futura
Bold typeface against black, white, or deep
red text bars. The inclusion of personal
pronouns in works like Untitled (Your Gaze
Hits the Side of My Face) (1981) and
Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am) (1987)
implicates viewers by confounding any
clear notion of who is speaking. These
rigorously composed mature works
function successfully on any scale. Their
wide distribution—under the artist’s
supervision—in the form of umbrellas, tote
bags, postcards, mugs, T-shirts, posters,
and so on, confuses the boundaries
between art and commerce and calls
attention to the role of the advertising in
her opinion to protect women’s rights through an image that also raises issues of power,
patriarchy, stereotyping, and consumption.
Catherine Opie. Justin Bond. 1993.
Opie's methods and subjects are diverse,
ranging from portraits of transgendered
people to landscape and urban
photography, in both bold, rich colors and
black-and-white. Often turning her lens
upon the seemingly mundane.
Opie explores themes of sexual and
cultural identity, and how they're affected
Justin Bond…cross-dressing male whose
attire and hair suggest “good girl” and
Abstracted Sexual Imagery
• Allusions to human body
– Georgia O’Keeffe
– Constantin Brancusi
– Louise Bourgeois
Georgia O’Keeffe. Grey Line
with Lavender and Yellow,
Torso of a Young Man I
“Organ-logic” (a term used by the art
historian Rosalind Krauss) refers to the
representation of an organ which stands
for the person who is significant in some
way to another person; this other person
is also represented by a body organ and
the two organs are united to make
something which signifies both people.
Louise Bourgeois, Blind Man's Bluff, 1984
Louise Bourgeois, 1982
Breast-like protuberances which seem
to be on the verge of becoming phallic
—it is a body of power.
Images of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Progeny
• Mayan representations of pregnant women
– Kidder Figure
– Small, infantile figures linked bearers of human offspring
with mother nature and progenitors of plant life.
• Alice Neel’s PregnantWoman shows physical effects of
• Peruvian Moche culture offers straightforward
depiction of childbirth
Clay figurine from Las Charcas culture
• Hand-modeled clay female figurines
highly characteristic of Las Charcas
culture…generally of reddish
brown.These female figurines are
often pregnant and are thought to
have been offerings to promote
fertility in the fields. Usually the
arms and legs of the figures are
mere stumps but some attempt at
a realistic body shape has been
made.The head has received the
most attention to detail…often
have earplug flares.
Alice Neel.The Pregnant Woman 1971
• Neel painted her daughter-in-
law, Nancy, nude and in the
last week of pregnancy.
Considering the perpetual
presence of the condition,
there are surprisingly few
images of pregnant women.
Neel's work is remarkable for
including at least eight
pregnant nudes. "I thought the
whole picture of woman
without pregnancy was . . .
trivial," Neel said. "It's treating
woman as sex object. But you
know, sex results in
something." The painting
depicts Nancy at ease despite
the obvious physical strain of
this late pregnancy that
resulted in twins. Directly
behind Nancy's head hangs
Neel's drawing of Richard, the
husband, father, and son.
Mother and Nursing Child.
Ceramic effigy vessel,
Virgin and Child in a Niche.
Oil on panel, 71/4" x 43/4".
Flanders, Northern Europe, c. 1432 –
1433. Kunsthistorisches Museum,
Fertility Figure, found at Catal Huyuk, c.6000 BCE
• How are various attitudes toward sexuality reflect in
the art you see?
• What attitudes toward sexuality, gender, and
marriage do you see display in the media (TV, movies,
advertising, etc.)? Do you agree with these attitudes?
• Why does “the gaze” objectify women in art?
• Can you identify some of the symbols of marriage
displayed in the works of art from other time
periods or other cultures?
• Love Making, Sexuality, Gender
• Feminine Body and the Gaze
• Abstract Sexual Imagery
• Pregnancy, Childbirth, Progeny