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13.3.09

Courbet's 'Origine' Was Pregnant?

Gustave Courbet's infamous painting L'Origine du monde has come up here before. Courbet specialist Thierry Savatier has just published a new edition of his book on the painting, L'Origine du monde: Histoire d'un tableau de Gustave Courbet (Bartillat). Working with gynecologists and other medical specialists, Savatier has advanced the theory that the woman shown in the painting is depicted with a slight bulge in her stomach, in a way consistent with a woman who is in the sixth month of pregnancy (and her first pregnancy, at that). As a result, Savatier offers the following gloss on the meaning of The Origin of the World, that it may be a representation of Eve, "the symbol of the eternal feminine, sexualized as well as maternal, at the origin of humanity, the origin of the world." Philippe Dagen poses some objections to the theory in an article (La femme de "L'Origine du monde" était-elle enceinte ?, March 6) for Le Monde (my translation):

First of all, this is a painting, and Courbet could certainly have taken pleasure in "turning the volume up" a bit by separating himself from a literal imitation of the model -- supposing that he had a model, which is not established. Then the lateral "swelling" is far from being proven. As for the asymmetry, the viewpoint does not allow one to judge that. [...] Another objection: Thierry Savatier himself suggests that the painting could have been modeled on a pornographic photograph, like those made and distributed in large quantities in Second Empire Paris. Those images respect notions of feminine beauty current at the time: nothing of the skinniness of today's fashion, but abundant forms, breasts and bellies that today one would find too full. If the nude painted by Courbet is not skinny, this could be for that simple reason, to conform to masculine taste at that time.
Readers should be aware that the images of the painting in the links provided may not be safe for work, even though this is a work of art. Dagen notes at the end of his article that copies of a book called Pornocratie were seized just last month by Portuguese police because the cover included a reproduction of this painting.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

AHHHH At work! please give some warning!

Charles T. Downey said...

Ooh -- sorry about that! I was trying to be careful and have now censored the image even more. I know it's shocking, but part of me always wants to say, "It's Courbet! Relax! It's art!" I'll try to be more careful.

Mark said...

I think the need to censor is more offensive.

Charles T. Downey said...

It's not censored -- anyone who wants to see the image can follow the link. We just don't want anyone to lose their job because of a prudish network administrator!