by Frauke Maria Petry
In Max Slevogt's large-scale oil painting, a female nude in red slippers and playing with a long chain strides between various fabrics. The setting is reminiscent of a domestic living room, but also of a harem scene. The nude woman with her hair up presents her backside in the classical contrapost . The posture is considered since ancient times as an ideal balance between tension and movement of the human body. The upper cropping of the picture creates the illusion of being able to follow the lady. In the exotic ambience, she becomes the target of sexual desire.
In the 19th century, stereotypical notions of Orientalism serve to legitimize the depiction of the nude. Moreover, in art at this time, everyday worlds blur with the "high art" promoted by academies. These see nude study as essential. Yet female nude models were only found in private studios until the mid-19th century. They were often socially equated with prostitutes, as they undressed for money.
Paradoxically, however, from this time on a nude was assumed to represent the female, not the male body. Likewise, a sexual symbolic language formed to this. The representation of the human body is always a reflection of the social conception of man: It is true that the role of women is changing in modern times due to industrialization, economic independence and better educational opportunities for women. But the image of the woman is determined by the erotic view of heterosexual artists. Feministically, the female body is degraded to an object. The woman remains in her assigned gender role and image of male sexual fantasies and beauty ideals.
Max Slevogt - Female back nude
Oil on canvas, 1905, 163 x 130,5 cm, Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany