Nude In Western Paintings Essay

depiction of the nude female model by a male artist in oil painting has played a
significant role in the western tradition over the last 500 years. The oil
painting of the female nude is subject to the artist’s interpretation of her
form. She is affected by the artist’s desire for his model, as well as his art
and she is torn between the artist’s inability to be both lover and painter.

Hubert Damisch’s “The Underneaths of Painting” helps the reader understand
the importance of the male painter’s imaging of the female form. By analyzing
Balzac’s Unknown Masterpiece, Damisch uncovers several tangents to the unique
relationship between artist’s and the women they create on canvas. Balzac
tells a tale of the truth behind the creative process of an artist and the way
he perceives his vision when finally completed in oil. Poussin is a young
painter who doesn’t quite understand how the concepts of desire and love will
affect the perception of his model, and lover, Gilette. He soon embarks on a
journey that takes him underneath the paint: “Under the paint and as its
?truth’, instead and in the place of the so-called picture, the exchange
assuming its last true face: a woman for a picture and a woman for what forms
(or ought to) its subject. It is at this point in the picture where the
subterranean, archaeological presence of the woman reveals itself, that
something is given to see, something that can be spoken, that can be named,
something moreover alive, delectable, a foothold for desire; in a word,
something that looks at us unlike the inexpressible wall of paint that holds it
captive,” (Damisch 202). There are many layers of paint put on to one canvas,
but the image isn’t visible right away, she must grow through the
brushstrokes. When the last brush of paint touches the canvas, her beauty is
revealed to the eye. The artist has created his masterpiece and she can be
discussed like a real woman now; she has a name, she has the personality the
artist has given her which makes her come alive, she is so real that observers
feel the need to touch her and she looks right back. The paint from which she
came is an afterthought and because Poussin is hungry for a piece that can
accomplish all this, he chooses his work over his love. Damisch utilizes
Balzac’s tale to define the position of the artist’s heart. It is inevitable
that every painter that is dedicated to his work cannot be capable of loving
anything so much as the act of expressing one’s self through paint. He falls
in love with his creation and there can be no room for a tangible love. Here is
Damisch: “…one has to choose between being a lover and a painter. Poussin
will be assailed by doubt at the thought that another person could look at
Gilette, and look at her as only he was allowed to see her: naked. But this
doubt will soon vanish: the young man will forget his mistress, he will desire
only to be a painter, he will see his art and nothing else,” (Damisch 200).

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Poussin has not fully recognized the intensity of the connection that an artist
has with his work and doesn’t realize that Gilette is what’s holding him
back. Since he shares his love with her and his work, Poussin cannot capture
true realism in the females he depicts. Although he loves her at this point and
couldn’t possibly think of letting anyone see Gilette, Poussin will discover
that to let her pose for other artists isn’t as shattering a suggestion when
he creates the nude that will lend his heart solely to the act of expression.

The artist will then transfer his feelings of obsession for Gilette to his work
and he will be able to love no other with the same intensity that he enjoys his
work. Damisch questions the role of desire in the conversion of the female model
into the artist’s Venus. He asks: “What of the working of desire in its
relation to the desire of the other?” and then goes on to report that:
“…we are amongst painters who only have eyes for painting. As far as Gilette
is concerned she has no part in their commerce: she doesn’t look at the
painting, but sees only the painters…Poussin, while drawing her, was no doubt
looking at her, but was not thinking about her…She does not say: without
desiring her. For it was his desire that she should model for him, yet a desire
which did not necessarily pass without explanation, at least for the one who
was, as it were its passing object. Gilette might have added…when it begs for
a look: ?You never look at me from the place which I see you.’…it is only
in painting that such a request had meaning, and one may at one and the same
time…find a woman beautiful and desire her, at the place from where she is
looking at us, on the canvas,” (Damisch 200). The artist has desired to attain
a beautiful, inspirational model to develop his masterpiece- he doesn’t desire
the physical form of his muse. Gilette may argue that Poussin doesn’t want her
for the same reasons that she wants him, but she does not understand that this
complaint can only be made by the female nude on the canvas: the test of true
desire on the artist’s part is if he can look into his painting and he feels
the need to caress the canvas- then he has perfected his image. Poussin mistakes
the desire he has for Gilette to model for him for an emotional desire and when
she does she can see he isn’t looking on her with a lustful gaze- his eye is
clinical in nature. To comprehend the importance of the relationship among
artists and their oil paintings of the female nude, one must understand the
significance of each one of these factors. For centuries artists have tried to
master the conception of the artist and his work, but this task seems fleeting:
How can one artist represent the situation of every painter? Because this feat
is impossible, we arrive at a variety of works that all try to express the same
topic, but end up drastically different. What is true to all of the
representations of the female nude by the male painter is that she is always
subject to the desire and love of her creator.


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