Today is Édouard Manet’s 180th birthday, so we’ve decided to pay homage to one of his most scandalous accomplishments — the presentation of Olympia at the 1865 Paris Salon. The controversy! The uproar! Oh, that “shocking,” “vulgar,” “immoral” reclining nude! It wasn’t as if society hadn’t seen a nude in art before; it was the way she was presented — not as some floaty goddess, but a real, confident, vampy naked gal, seemingly in the middle of a commanding crotch grab, perhaps even a high class prostitute. And so, let’s take a semi-random survey of the reclining nude in art history, from Manet’s Olympia inspirations — Titian’s 1538 Venus and Giorgione’s 1510 Sleeping Venus — to sleeping, lying, horizontally leaning nudes in contemporary visual culture. See all that flesh change along with aesthetic movements and trends and commercial motivations. Observe the body language. Naturally, we’ve left huge gaps, so feel free to fill in our jagged little timeline with your suggestions and favorites in the comment section.
Sleeping Venus, Giorgione and Titian, 1510. Courtesy of Wikipedia