Woman as Temptress, Mother, and Saint

By the early 1500s, some areas of Europe were undergoing what was called the Renaissance which meant a "rebirth" of interest in classical (ancient Greek and Roman) art, literature and culture. Wealthy male patrons commissioned artists to make religious paintings for their churches and palaces which often featured the Virgin Mary--she was very popular.  For the first time in over a thousand years, patrons began commissioning  pagan subjects (like male and female nudes gods and goddess and mythological stories) which they re-interpreted through Christian discourse to make it acceptable for a Christian audience to view the nude body. They also began to commission portraits although only the very wealthy could afford this so the women who were painted were queens and duchesses, and very wealthy wives.  The most popular female subjects were the Virgin Mary, mythological nudes like Venus, Diana, Europa and female heroines like saints who had been martyred. Male patrons also liked assorted paintings of various historical and literary females who were considered good female examples of modesty and virtue, like Judith and Lucretia. Finally, they began commissioning what feminist art historians now call "rape" imagery, but which male art historians used to call abduction or seduction images.  These often involved mythological females who had been raped by gods, but instead of showing a scene of power and aggression, male patrons and artists preferred to show the women as resisting a little, but giving in a lot.  That meant that the male audience could see themselves as being seducers rather than rapists.  

Notice how elegant Mary is. She always is shown in blue and red because those were the two most expensive colors to make.
Probably the most famous rape painting in the world. What makes it look like a seduction even though it was a rape scene?
Rembrandt lived in a very conservative, Protestant country so he could paint pagan scenes of female virtue, but the woman had to be clothed. This is a rape scene…does Europa seen scared to you?
From a famous biblical story of female virtue, Judith seduced a warmongering general in order to kill him and save her city from his army.
St. Theresa was a nun who was famed for her piety and and prayers and special relationship to God.
St. Lucia was virtuous and killed because she refused to submit to a wealthy king who wanted her to sleep with him. Her eyes were plucked out and she is usually shown with them on a plate.
Cleopatra committed suicide rather than surrender to the Romans so it was acceptable to show her naked because she was a kind of martyr. Artists used the model of Greek goddess.
I doubt that Cleopatra dressed like this, but this was erotic to male patrons in the 17th century. This is an example of Baroque art: dramatic, strong contrasts, lots of diagonals.
Queens were painted because of their status and they would instruct the artist about the kind of representation they wanted so this is an example of a female determining her pictorial image.
A wealthy, unidentified woman painted by a famous Venetian artist. Her husband would have chosen the artists and have the final decision over her representation although she could "informally" influence him.
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