Manet and Titian comparison

Edouard Manet - Olympia, 1863

Titian - The Venus of Urbino, 1538

I watched a really interesting documentary last night on TV about Manet. It had its tabloid headline moments but there was a really thought-provoking analysis of the relationship between Manet's infamous "Olympia" and its historical precedent, Titian's "Venus of Urbino". I would be very interested in what you think about these images, in particular the relationship between the female subject and the gaze of the viewer. Manet's image caused a huge uproar when it was exhibited in the Paris Salon. Can you suggest why? What are the interesting similarities and differences between these two celebrated images?


alan mitchell said...

Ella and I saw the programme - thought it was great. We plan to watch it again this weekend and focus some study on the olympia analysis. Incidentally, where does the Goya Maja (clothed / unclothed) fit into this story?

Ella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
florence said...

Manet and Titian

When looking at the two paintings, the intention or agenda of them is quite evident. The original Titian portrays the moral of chastity whilst still creating mystery. Whereas the Manet clearly refers to the Titian, which emphasises his point, but discusses the subject of a courtesan, her profession and her attitude towards it. Although different in message, the paintings do share some similarities, mainly because Manet deliberately replicated elements of the earlier painting. Firstly in the composition, Olympia reclines across the middle of the canvas from left to right, looking at the viewer, the Venus of Urbino also lays in a similar manor but further down the canvas, allowing for other aspects of the composition, like the two figures in the background to gain enough room for perspective and stability. Other similarities include the fact that both have servants, an animal at the end of the bed, jewellery, possession of flowers (although in different places), the bed and the pose.
There are also significant differences; prominently the colour schemes are quite opposite to one and other, both reflective of their time and period but also subject matter. Titian paints in romantic warm flattering pinks and peaches, almost dream like, suiting the idea of virginity and romance. Manet paints in cooler more austere and blunt blues, greens and whites, fitting the subject of her profession and reflecting her cold, matter of fact expression. This difference is important because they subtly portray to the viewer the intention of the painting, the Manet especially creating an atmosphere of separation, the courtesan’s ability to disassociate herself mentally from the situation at hand.
Another essential difference is the element of light and how it is handled. Titian diffuses light throughout the painting; it seems at dusk, light spreads evenly through the depth of composition (the people in the background receiving light from another source behind the screen). Manet however concentrates light on Olympia and he bed. The light seems natural, harsh, as if curtains have been opened in a usually dingy room. This not only emphasises the subjects skin colour, but also possibly mirrors the concept of shedding light onto a seedy, and ruthless profession. The painting was considered shocking at the time because the subject is displayed as a Venus, someone to idealise and someone “worthy” of such attention, however she is a courtesan, considered the lowest profession and someone outside of acceptable, public society.
Finally the concept of the expression of the subject, Titian paints the Venus Of Urbino with a flirtatious gaze from a turned and tilted head. The subject has an element of seduction however is mainly demure. Manet nonetheless captures his subject with a nonchalant air about her, with her face straight and flat towards the viewer/painter, unashamed that she is lying in the nude. One has the feeling the model knows that the viewer is “here” for, as if she has been waiting.
Although Titian’s painting seems modest in comparison with the later Manet, however once looking at the Giorgioni painting “The Sleeping Venus” painted in 1510, One may view the painting in a slightly different manor…

Jon said...

Great analysis Flo. Apparently, according to the documentary, the title of Manet's painting refers to an unpopular mistress of the Emperor Napoleon who was believed to be the real force behind the throne. Perhaps one of the key differences between these paintings relates to their intended audience. Titian's Venus was created for a private patron, whereas Manet's Olympia was viewed by the male, middle class visitors to the Paris Salon who appear to have been offended by her challenging gaze. It's always worth considering the relationship between viewer and subject. We are so used to seeing pictures in galleries and museums that we forget about the very different experience of commissioning a private work of art that may have originally hung in the master bedroom of your palazzo! Watch out for another Manet post soon, this time a comparison with the always fabulous Goya.

Jon said...

PS What do you think about Manet changing the Titian lapdog into a black cat with an arched back? Animals are often used by artists for symbolic purposes - monkeys, lions, birds, dogs, cats etc. all have their place in art history. They can have allegorical significance as part of a complex set of interwoven meanings referring to Biblical or mythological stories or be used as individual symbols in portraits and other genres of painting. What do dogs and cats represent?

Jon said...

I've just read a visitor's comment on the Samson and Delilah post. The author has an art history blog and also appears to be a interested in Manet's Olympia (small world). Anyway, here's a link to their post about the critical reception of Manet's painting:

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