The Same Woman in Art

Laurie and Debbie (together again for a short time) say:

Our blogrolls and email boxes are buzzing with this YouTube video, 500 years of women in Western art:

People seem to love it. You can describe both of us as underwhelmed.

The film-maker did a great job at two things: his (presumably “his,” the nickname is “eggman”) morphing from face to face is brilliantly done, and his ability to pick similar faces and similar sizes and positions to make the morphing work is superb.

But there’s one catch. By picking the faces that work most seamlessly together, he has neatly excised a huge variety of women painted by the same painters or schools that he selected, and left us with the impression that for the first three hundred and fifty years every woman in Western art was not only white, thin, and young, but had a long nose, dark eyes, and a demure downward gaze. In his last hundred and fifty years, only three-quarters of women fit that description.

We disagree. While the long-nosed demure beauty is easy to find in the history of art, fifteen minutes with Google Images will tell you that she’s never been alone there. Let’s start more or less where eggman started.

medieval Black Madonna

Titian redhead


van Gogh old woman in chair

botero fat woman

Believe us, there are tens of thousands more where these five came from. The vast majority of women in Western art are, in fact, white; on every other axis, however, the variation is amazing.

Here’s a challenge for eggman: do it again with some real variety.

women, feminism, art, Western art, diversity, Women in Art, body image, portraits, art history, Body Impolitic

6 thoughts on “The Same Woman in Art

  1. I thought something similar when I first heard about that video, though I didn’t bother watching it.

  2. I’d say the eyes have it. The artists intentionally painted flirtatious gazes. Did you know dilated eyes mean a dilated cervix (think of that when you get your next eye exam.) That’s one reason why ladies on the prowl used belladonna to dilate their eyes. I mentioned this to the to the kid doing my eye exam (he looked around 15, but probably was at least 10 years older). He got so flustered he gave me the wrong prescription… in all fairness he might have done that because he was very allergic to cats and I travel in a small cloud of cat dander…)

    Anyway this montage reminded me of “The Look” from the Jane Austen site, the Republic of Pemberley. It seemed to me to belong in the montage, for the gaze…although it’s a money shot for the bluestocking, not for the art collector.

  3. I see what you mean. I myself was waiting for more active women — like Artemisia Gentilleschi’s Judith. I was disappointed when all I got were faces that were so similar to each other.

  4. Got bored, but what I did watch gave me such an impression of stifling convention. So very many suitably well-behaved, lifeless women. So many generations of sitting nicely in nice clothes and being proper. Makes you want to tear your hair and do something resembling The Scream. :)

    Hey, lets see him morph Picasso’s crying woman in there!



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