The Representation of Women in the Paintings of the High Renaissance and the Recurring Tendencies of the XXI Century Research Paper
Introduction: Women in Media. History and Evolution
Up until the XX century, women could not play significant roles in the world history for understandable reasons. Due to the chauvinist ideas that used to be widely accepted in the society, women were forced to remain in the shadow. However, women were still portrayed in the media; the manner of depicting women in media and art varied over centuries. Despite the fact that it has been quite long since the renaissance Era, it can be assumed that the renaissance traditions are still alive in the modern art in terms of female image.
The Portrayal of Women in the High Renaissance
Da Vinci and His Vision of Female Beauty
One of the most renowned representatives of the High Renaissance art, a Vinci was famous for breaking new grounds in the Renaissance culture.
Mona Lisa and the breach of traditions
When talking about da Vinci, it is practically impossible not to give proper credit to his most famous painting, Mona Lisa. On the one hand, da Vinci’s artwork followed the traditions of the High Renaissance. Following the High Renaissance traditions, da Vinci portrays Mona Lisa in a very realistic manner. Thus, the veil was finally taken off the audience’s eyes, and the latter could finally enjoy the beauty of a woman.
Leonardo’s contemporaries were creating portraits of women that emphasized their social status by the elegant costumes and jewelry they wore. Leonardo, on the other hand, removed any blatant display of luxury, instead focusing on the woman herself. Mona Lisa smiles at the viewer, a detailthat grants her a personality and denotes that Leonardo sought to capture her appearance as wll as psychology. (Zirpolo x)
On the other hand, the way in which Mona Lisa was portrayed in da Vinci’s painting clearly broke the Late Renaissance traditions. To make the matter even more intriguing, Mona Lisa can be considered a retrospective into the Medieval manner of depicting women. Comparing Mona Lisa to other Late Renaissance paintings of women, one must admit that da Vinci introduced new elements to the Renaissance traditions.
One of the features of Mona Lisa that truly stand out is the return to the celebration of humble beauty. The painting does not feature the traditional admiration of human bodily proportions, like the famous The Castration of Uranus fresco by Vasari and Christophano, or the artworks of the Early Renaissance, like the paintings by Botticelli.
It would be wrong to claim that da Vinci conceal Mona Lisa’s beauty from the audience; however, he clearly shifts the emphasis from the physical perfection, which was appraised so much in the High Renaissance Era, to the mystery of personality, which would be focus of an artwork somewhat later.
Lorenzo Lotto: reversing the time
Another peculiar example that needs to be considered to get a clear idea of how women were portrayed in the High Renaissance Era, the artworks created by Lorenzo Lotto can be regarded as an attempt to bring the humankind back to the appreciation of the beauty of human body and the perfection of its proportions. As critics remark, Lotto’s “painting of a richly dressed young woman with an engaging outward gaze” (Johnson 77) pretty much represented the female image staple of the century.
Comparing the two artists and the manner in which they depicted women, one has to say that the traditions of High Renaissance clearly went back to the Ancient Greek and Roman art.
Paying careful attention to the proportions of human body, Lotto also showed the female attractiveness in a less discrete way than da Vinci; it can be assumed that da Vinci’s and Lotto’s works represented the link between the highly spiritual, yet hardly healthy, and rather devastated, image of a woman that the Medieval art tended to promote, and the sensual portraits of women of the Renaissance and High Renaissance era (Tinagli 17).
Da Vinci and Lotto, Back to Back: A Comparison
Despite the fact that the two artists definitely used completely different techniques in the creation of their artworks, one could clearly see the pattern in the representation of women in the High Renaissance period. The changes that da Vinci’s and Lotto’s works represented concerned not only the physical features of the images portrayed; as it has been stressed above, the women of Renaissance as they were depicted in the media of the era also gained an element of earthiness.
While these women were still portrayed as virtuous and highly moral, they were closer to the audience than the women in the paintings of the Medieval Era; the audience could relate to Mona Lisa with her mysterious smile, which, with all its mystery, could not be considered a heavenly one – Mona Lisa was clearly flesh and blood.
The same can be said about Lotto’s works – the women portrayed by the artist were delightful, yet they no longer dwelled in the Heaven’s department. The reasons for the given change are quite hard to nail down; as it has been mentioned above, the bodies of the women in the pictures were no longer draped in long and shapeless clothes; however, these aspects of the women’s appearance in the High Renaissance Era could hardly be considered a legitimate reason for the representation of women in media to change completely in High renaissance.
The expressions in women’s faces changed, too. To start with, the famous and nonetheless mysterious smile of la Joconde should be given a proper mentioning – the High Renaissance clearly stated that women had many interesting things to say, therefore, turning the image of a woman in art into a more intellectual concept than the one that had been established previously.
Women in Modern Media: Revival of Renaissance Traditions
As it has been stressed, the manner in which the artists of the High Renaissance depicted women in their work had a lot of points of contact with the image of women in the modern media.
Despite the fact that much water has flown under the bridge since the era of High Renaissance came to an end, the influences of da Vinci, Latto and many more artists is still persistent. Reconsidering the artworks from the High Renaissance period and borrowing the ideas that the artists of the High Renaissance implied in their works, modern artists create the concept of women in media and the image of a female beauty based on the High Renaissance Era.
Indeed, a mere look at the specimens of modern portrayal of women in media brings one back to the time when women finally started shaking off the burden of sanctimony. It is no secret that in the present-day world, the image of a liberated woman is traditionally accepted. However, it is worth keeping in mind that women’s liberation took place not so long ago. Therefore, the parallels between the way in which the High Renaissance women were portrayed and the images of a modern woman in a modern media are quite obvious.
However, there is no use denying that the differences between the two concepts of female image in art and media are also quite prominent. Unfortunately, these differences do not even speak in favor of the modern times.
While in the High Renaissance Era, the manner of depicting women in their natural beauty was highly appreciated and, therefore, the artworks were clearly turning somewhat feminist. In the modern world, the image of women, which is conveyed through media, is less than inspiring; moreover, it clearly succumbs to the current idea of beauty instead of longing for a more timeless idea of natural beauty (Papel 120).
Nevertheless, physical appearance is not the only point at which the concept of the High Renaissance art and the modern art cross and at the same time differ so greatly. The legend behind the image of a woman has suffered considerable changes as well. As one must have expected, the ideas of a modern image of a woman in art and media have split into two different concepts.
While the portrayal of women in art remains an attempt to express the individuality of the author and appraise the wisdom of women, in popular media, the legend behind a female image is somewhat shallower and is usually limited to women whose achievements are labeled as successful by the standards of society (Engstrom 10).
Therefore, it can be considered that the way in which women are portrayed in art and media has both evolved and regressed since the High Renaissance era. The regression can be observed at the mass media level, where women are depicted as shallow characters with a personality of a hairspray can.
The progress, however, can clearly be tracked in the opportunities that women are offered nowadays; referenced in the mass media images of women, this progress shows that the High Renaissance ideas have served their purpose well, not only satisfying the audience’s lust for beauty, but also upgrading the image of a woman in the eyes of the crowd.
Conclusion: The Recent Tendencies and the Future Changes
Despite the fact that the present-day world seems strikingly different to the High Renaissance era, with the recent innovations, the technological breakthrough and the concept of human rights and freedoms, it can be considered that there is a great similarity between the way in which women were portrayed in the specified era and the modern images of women promoted in the mass media.
It would be wrong to assume that the given phenomenon shows that time has reversed; instead, the similarities between the concept of women in media in High Renaissance and the Post Modern Era can be viewed as a spiral development of a female image. While the modern portrayal of women in media cannot be technically viewed as the return of the Renaissance standards, it is still clear that the present-day image of a woman owes much to how women were depicted then.
Engstrom, Erika. The Bride Factory: Mass media Portrayals of Women and weddings. London, UK: Peter Lang. 2012. Print.
Johnson, Geraldine. Renaissance Art: A very short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 2005. Print.
Papel, Ira. Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. New York, NY: Thieme. 2009. Print.
Tinagli, Paola. Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation and Identity. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. 1997. Print.
Zirpolo, Lilian H. Historical dictionary of Art. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. 2008. Print.
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