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  1. The Judgment of Paris by Jean Antoine Watteau
  2. Le Benedicite by Jean Siméon Chardin
  3. Marie-Antoinette and her children by Elizabeth Vigee-Le Brun

In order to study the image of women in painting as reflecting changes in political and social context, I have chosen three works of art by three different artists, from three different periods. I will study these paintings in their historical context as a mirror of the evolutions of values. The first one is The Judgment of Paris by Jean Antoine Watteau (1718-1720). Watteau painted this work during the Regency of Philippe d'Orléans, which is a period of detente after the austerity of Louis XIV's last years. Mores (especially sexual mores) were much more relaxed and free, and the aristocracy lived in a luxurious and magnificent way. At the Royal Court, life was flighty and frivolous, and debaucheries were sometimes organized. This mood was reflected in arts, and Watteau symbolizes lightness, even though his art is very deep and poetic.

[...] It is particularly true in Watteau's small-scale panels that were free of any academic ambition, such as The Judgment of Paris. In this painting, Venus surrenders her beauty to the look of Paris, under Minerva and Juno's angry gaze[2]. In the centre of the panel the goddess of love whom we see the back, is portrayed as a desirable woman, with voluptuous forms. On the left, Mercury is standing beyond Paris who is tending the golden apple to Venus. Paris is naked but his sex is hidden. [...]


[...] To conclude, the image of women in paintings is very differently used. I think that the three paintings I have chosen are a good demonstration of this variety. In Watteau's Judgment of Paris, the woman is passive and objects of our gaze, she is an ideal fantasy. This painting was owned by a doctor, in order to be hung in a house, hence its small side. It is a painting to be looked everyday, especially by men, so it could be hung in his private cabinet. [...]


[...] Often, women in paintings look toward the spectator and we look at her, which is a sign of her submission to the owner of the painting. But in this painting, the originality is due to the position of Venus: she is back, and shows us her back. It is very uncommon and provocative. The body of a nude is arranged to be a display for the man who looks at, it has to stimulate his sexuality. Here, the man can be stimulated by the back of Venus which can be attractive, but not by her face which is hidden[4]. [...]

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