An online exhibition of the “nipple slip” iconography within classical Western art. The gallery presents alternative interpretations of a gender specific iconography, which in the last hundred years has become a symbol of eroticism and obscenity; this conceptualization of “obscenity” has been historically linked to dominating Western powers– namely white males– from which the works in this exhibition emerged.
“…it became poignantly clear to me that the human being is an animal who wants to see something all the more when it’s forbidden.”
Filmmaker Nagisa Oshima discussing the effect of censorship in Japan following the Meiji Restoration, a period of modernization brought on partly by pressure from colonizing Western forces. “On Trial for Obscenity” pg. 251
“The Melun Diptych”- Jean Fouquet (1450) Jean Fouquet was a very important painter for France during the 1400s. He studied from the painters of Italian Renaissance and utilized their techniques in his paintings. “The Melun Diptych” is often considered Fouquet’s most important work. This panel depicts the Virgin and Child. The nip-slip likely indicates maternity, as often with Virgin paintings. Historians believe that the Fouquet’s modeled the Virgin after king Charles VII’s favorite mistress- Agnes Sorel. Sorel had a lot of influences over the king and was officially recognized as a royal mistress. She gave birth to three of the king’s daughter, so it’s only right that she’s depicted as the motherly Madonna.
“Roman Charity” – Jean Baptiste Greuze (1767). “Roman Charity” has been a prevalent theme in paintings since the age of classical antiquity. The works depict a woman named Pero, who secretly breastfed her father after he was sentence to death by starvation. Pero was eventually discover by a jailer, but officials were touched by the act. They released both her and her father.
“King Jehoash Saved From the Massacre of the Royal Family”- Henri Leopold Levy (1870). King Jehoash was the biblical Eighth King of Judah. When Jehoash was 4, his grandmother, Athaliah came to reign and commanded a purge of the royal family in order to keep her throne. As depicted in the painting, Jehoash was saved by his aunt Jehosheba. He was raised by her in secrecy her till he was 7 (the nip-slip could possibly depicts maternity). Eventually, Jehoash’s uncle revealed his linage to the public. Jehoash retook the throne with support from the people as they chanted “Long live the King.” Athaliah, hearing this, rushed to challenge him, but was captured and executed. Jehoash ruled for 40 years, though not without faults; toward the end of his reign, he left the country divided. Before Jehoash’s death, Judah was invaded by the army of Syria. During this crisis, Jehoash was assassinated by his own servant, Millo.
“Flora”- Titian (1515). This painting depicts what seems to be Flora the goddess of Spring. Although Flora was not an important goddess during the time of Rome, she was the subject for many renaissance painters. She’s sometimes depicted with a nip-slip, which could a symbol of spring fertility, maternity and feminine beauty. Alternatively, many historians believe that “Flora” paintings were ironic portraits of a famous Roman courtesan. In this case, the nip-slip represents her profession.
“Hagar in the Desert”- Pompeo Girolamo Batoni- The image depicts the biblical story of the handmade- Hagar. She was given to Abraham by his first wife, Sarai, to bear a child. After many hardships caused by her slave owner- Sarai , Hagar runs away. She is seen here with an angel of Yahweh. Her breast represents the her pregnancy. Her face shows her contemplation of the future.
“Death of Actaeon” – Titian (1562). This painting by the Venetian master of the cinquecento renaissance period depicts the end of the Greek hero Actaeon. As the myth goes, Actaeon accidentally saw a bathing Artemis, the goddess of hunting, wilderness, and virginity. The goddess forbade him to speak as it would soil the mystery of her innocence. However, Actaeon heard the noises of his hunting group and called out to them. Artemis turned him into a stag and his loyal hounds, not recognizing him, tore him to pieces. Artemis’ exposed breast represent her purity being exposed.
“Lucrezia Romana” – Parmigianio (1540). Lucrezia was raped by Sextus, the son of the last king of Rome- Lucius. After pleading her case in Rome, Lucrezia killed herself. Many consider her action the catalyst to the revolution that overthrew the Roman Monarchy. This is one of many Lucrezia depictions with nip-slip. The iconography probably represents the staining of her femininity and virtue by Sextus.
“St Agatha”- Francesco Furini (1635-1645). Agatha was a noble woman who dedicated her virginity to God. She rejected advances from other men. One Quintianus persecuted her for her faith after she rejected him. Agatha was sent to a brothel where she was tortured, most infamously by getting her breast cut off by the pincers which she’s holding in the painting. Her wounds, a representation of chastity and torment, were later healed by St Peter in the same prison where she died.
“Lady Liberty Leading the People”- Eugene Delacroix (1830). This painting depicts the July Revolution of 1830, in which the people of France revolted against Louis XVI’s younger brother Charles X 30 years after the French Revolution. The nip-slip here isn’t as important as the clothes worn by Lady Liberty. She is depicted as an ignoble goddess who’s as humble as her people.
“Laura”- Giorgione (1506). This painting by the Venetian master epitomize the High Renaissance ‘s portrait style. It is also prototype of a “belladonna” portrait which depicts beautiful women. Opinions are divided on the subject of the painting. Some art historians argue that it is of a young bride, as that was one of the three reasons most female portraits were commissioned at the time (the others two were for fertility and death). The laurel leaves represents chastity and the opening of the robe to show the breasts represents maternity and fertility. Others believe that the model in the painting was a courtesan. The fur lined red robe was common dressing of courtesans at the time, and the opening of her robe represent seduction and love. The laurel branch, an iconography of writers and poet during antiquity tells us that she was proficient in these arts. Many of the portraits following the tradition of Laura were modeled by courtesans as well.
“The Broken Pitcher”- Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1771). The broken pitcher was a common theme within 18th- 19th century paintings. The pitcher, combined with the sad face of the subject, and the revealing of her breast is a representation of lost innocence and chastity. The painting shows the period where the subject grows from a girl to a woman.
“Little Girl with a Bouquet”- William Adolphe Bouguereau (1896). This painting utilize the nipslip coupled with flowers as a representation of the lost of innocence, a common theme in Bouguereau’s work.
“A Lady Before A Mirror”- After Artemisia Gentileschi. This painting is a copy of a painting by Artemisia, which nfortunately can’t be found. Artemisia is the daughter of famed painter Orazio Gentileschi. She’s is not only a female artist in the early 1600, but also one of the most accomplished and progressive. Artemisia was raped by her painting tutor- Agostino Tassi- when she was a virgin. She expressed her pain through the suffering mythical women in her works. This painting itself likely depicts Venus with her son Cupid holding the mirror; a common sensual motif in painting (pornography). The painting depicts a private moment of the goddess as viewers look at her as an erotic subject.