The Evolution of the Female Nude

The female nude has been a topic of interest and study in art for thousands of years. Over the course of history, the treatment of female nudes in art have evolved to reflect the cultural attitudes and concerns of the time. In this essay, I will chronologically compare three works of art, Venus of Urbino, Olympia and Olympia’s Boyz, that have similar content, but display different artistic concerns and styles.

Venus of Urbino by Titian

Venus of Urbino, by Titian in 1538, oil on canvas, is a beautiful example of a reclining female nude portrayed through a male gaze, painted during the Venetian High Renaissance. Women were generally not allowed to apprentice under master artists, so during the Renaissance, painting was a profession largely dominated by men. This patriarchal dominance lead to a conventional approach to painting nude women, as mythological, demure, and sensual creatures such as Venus. Venus is the Roman goddess of love, sex and fertility. By portraying women in this role, men are actively playing into longstanding sexist stereotypes about women. Women are often portrayed as sexual objects, valued only for aesthetic beauty. In modern advertising, beautiful women with large breasts are used to sell unrelated goods and services. In this painting, a pale nude woman reclines in the foreground, breasts bared, her skin supple and glowing with the technique of chiaroscuro. Her dog sleeps by her feet and her maids place her gown in a wardrobe in the background. Her head is tilted to the side, resting on her hand, her eyes cast forward in a direct and suggestive gaze, seducing the viewer with her beauty. Despite her suggestive gaze, art historians believe this painting was a celebration of marriage, created for the Duke of Urbino to commemorate his wedding to Giulana Varano. The dog curled up by her feet symbolizes loyalty, while the roses clutched in her hand symbolize lasting romantic love.


Titian effectively produced a controversial image by posing Venus confidently and by replacing a mythological setting with a domestic interior. By doing