Venus rising from the sea – a deception – Raphaelle Peale

I am quite open to all art concepts and themes. I therefore don’t have an issue with nudity in art, but I can understand why some people feel that nudity in art is overwhelming or confrontational. While in my own little bubble I don’t encounter censorship or adverse reactions to art as I bumble around, generally not taking in the perceptions of others when I’m viewing a piece, censorship is there to maintain a morality to boundaries which artists like to push. This said, some artists take censorship and make a tongue in cheek play to match the reverent strictness of what meets conformity.

Peale painted this in 1822, and demonstrates a humour and wit to his style as well as a veiled eroticism. Now I know what you might be thinking… “WidowC, this looks like a table clothe on a washing line… what is possibly erotic about this?” Well sit back and let me tell you.

Firstly Venus, goddess of love, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory, and this is an odd way to depict her, as we are so used to seeing her feminine attributes on show, especially on her ascent from the ocean, yet what we see of her here is a slender arm with her flaxen locks held in her delicate hand, the hair falling over her pale limb provocatively. We also see one delicate foot. Flowers blooming where she steps indicating her attribute of fertility.

So why cover her? This is a visual pun by the artist and a swipe at censorship. The sheet is reminiscent of the cloth of honour, which is usually hung behind thrones and forms a canopy. This acts as a barrier between the viewer and the potential of seeing Venus. Usually when new works of art are hung they are behind a curtain before the big reveal and some of the more “risqué” art works can only be viewed behind a curtain. Peale uses this as his deception. The cloth, hung to tape, divides the canvas in what would otherwise be blank space, the regimented lines from the folds replacing the folds of skin that would otherwise be on show. The only unnatural fold, is where her sex should be, in a clear move of hidden eroticism, the odd pleat in the lower centre of the sheet. This creates a sexual tension to the piece, which has been perceived by critics as more powerful that actually seeing the form of Venus herself.

The cloth itself resembles a tablecloth, a stable for still life at the time this painting was created, and the crisply ironed cloth serves as a tribute to the realism of the piece.

Interestingly the arm and the foot of Venus in this painting appears to be a homage to an earlier painting created by James Barry in 1722, you can see below the same arm and foot with the blossoming flowers.

I find this piece so interesting in its subtleties and humour. The dark background enhancing the white cloth and emphasising the folds. The hidden feminine shape, obscured by the covering and the understated attention to detail.

What do you this of this piece? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?


6 thoughts on “Venus rising from the sea – a deception – Raphaelle Peale

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  1. How clever, and yet so subtle. Great read, WidowC.

    I’m curious, what do you think of Balthus, works like the “Guitar Lesson”? I think they tried to censor another one of his paintings recently…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah I know that piece of work well. It’s an interesting blend of lesbian eroticism and motherly abuse. It’s certainly a boundary pusher and I can see why some could be offended by the confrontational nature of the piece. It directly offers an uncomfortable insight to the viewers and we know that some just don’t like that, as it impacts on moral grounds. If I was a feminist (which I’m not) I could go down the round of how the girl is being used like an instrument which is degrading… there are so many avenues which Balthus gruesomely displays to present a shock tactic approach to his audiences.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. But he often portrayed very young girls in sexual instances like that, so I see it as borderline pedophilia. I like his style, yet end up with strong, mixed feelings about his work. Are we saying pedophilia/sexual abuse is OK by exhibiting him or even liking his paintings?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Now you see I was hedging around the word pedophilia and in the instance of the guitar lesson used “motherly abuse” instead. I want to make it clear that abuse (to child or adult) is never ok. We do however need to look at the time it was painted, artist background and motivation. There are many artists who display their own pains through their work. The guitar lesson is from 1934, yet we still seem themes of childhood abuse today… take the artist Jana Brike shows over sexualised young girls masturbating flowers to deal with her own personal experiences growing up. The point of art is different for the artist and the viewers… the artist has a story to tell, the audience will always elaborate or intensify that story

        Liked by 1 person

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