The portrayal of women in art across the span of human history has always been a fascinating and often troubling subject. From the earliest representations of women as powerful goddesses to the exploitative pin-ups of Vargas (1896-1982, whose highly sexualized paintings of women were a staple of Playboy magazine), for most of known history women --half the population of the planet--have been overwhelmingly portrayed by men, with all that that implies. This collection examines both the depiction of women's physical selves and their roles in society, across a span of five thousand years. Drawn from the Google Cultural Institute's archives and assembled by Randee M Ketzel, Sami Sankari, Gabriela Deras, Orian Logan and Bre'anna Davis (in order of their appearance), this gallery takes a look at how both men and women (in the cases where the artist is known) have depicted women in sculpture, painting, printmaking and photography, and how that has changed over time. We will examine the artworks in the chronological order in which they were created, ranging from a prehistoric ritual figurine created around 2800 to 2300 b.c.e., to paintings by Le Brun and Cassatt, to a World War Two poster, and lastly a photograph of the 1956 Women's Day march in Pretoria, South Africa. The first item in the gallery, Cycladic Female Figurine, (2,800 and 2,300 b.c.e.) is a white marble statuette approximately 2 feet high. Objects of this type, whose significance is open to interpretation, have been found in gravesites all across the Cyclades Islands in Greece. Archaeologists still debate as to whether these figurines were intended for funerary rites, as symbols of wealth (grave-goods), proxies for humans, or objects of worship. The extreme popularity of these figures during the craze for abstract art in the mid-20th century resulted in wholesale looting of gravesites, with the subsequent loss of clear provenance for over half the pieces extant in collections today. (cycladic) This particular figurine is a case in point; it can only be identified as a canonical (typical) type and is attributed to an individual artist known as the Goulandris Master based on the techniques used, though the gender of the Goulandris Master is unknown. Given that it is now known that approximately half the number of hand prints in Paleolithic art have been identified as belonging to women, it is reasonable to suppose that the Bronze-age (approximately 3,000 b.c.e.) Goulandris Master might well have been female.( nationalgeographic)
Because similar male statues are extremely rare, it is generally assumed that these figures, with their abstract faces but carefully incised sexual features, were objects of reverence for female fecundity. Though not the earliest representation of the female form (The Woman of Willendorf is estimated to have been carved 28,000 years ago), this strangely modern-looking figure represents the best place for this collection to start. The next item in the collection, "The Massacre of the Innocents" by Charles Le Brun, illustrates a story from the gospel of Matthew, which tells of the massacre of all young male children by the order of King Herod the Great, in his determination to prevent the coming of the Messiah. Begun by Le Brun in 1647, it was completed sometime in the 1660s for the keeper of the royal treasury( Le Brun). This energetic baroque painting, completed in oil on canvas, shows the horrific scene of armed and mounted soldiers plucking babies from their mother's desperate arms, while a chariot in the background tramples more children and women beneath it. The agonized expressions of the women and babies is very much a product of its time, portraying women as helpless victims of male aggression; though one central character fights to retain a grip on her child, the other women in the composition slump passively in defeat. The next item in the collection, "Children in a Garden" (The Nurse) by Mary Cassatt, represents a clear break with the previous portrayal in both its style, subject, and author. Cassatt, one of the first women painters to have her work accepted into the Paris Salon, was well known for her portrayal of women and their children, focusing on the deep and special bonds of mothers and daughters, though she herself remained unmarried and childless throughout her life (Mfah). Beginning as a copyist of the old masters, she was befriended by artists of the impressionist movement, especially Edgar Degas, and eagerly embraced this revolutionary new style to gain recognition as one of its best painters. Her struggle and ultimate success to gain acceptance in an art world dominated by men is what makes her presence in this gallery especially relevant (Cassat). In this 1878 painting, her first major impressionist outdoor scene, the loose brushwork, off-center composition, and soothing palette combine to create an atmosphere of peaceful domesticity that sharply contrasts with the previous work by Le Brun (Nga). The next item in the collection is an American icon that hardly needs introduction. "We Can Do It!", the World War two poster by J. Howard Miller, employs a bright primary color scheme to emphasize the energy and determination of the young factory- worker woman who is pulling back the sleeve of her work shirt to show off her flexed arm muscle (americanhistory). Her pugnacious stare is directed at the viewer in challenge, and the simple lines of the composition effectively demonstrate how the roles of women have changed; with the men away at war, and American manufacturing needing strong capable workers to fill the gap, women were actively encouraged to take over traditionally male roles. No longer simply viewed as simply the caregivers of society, women were now portrayed a valuable contributors to the war effort. The final image in the collection is a black and white photograph (unfortunately, the photographer is unknown), of the 1956 Women's March on the council buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. On October 27th, 1956, 20,000 women of all ages and races gathered at the Union buildings in the capitol to protest the Prime Minister's suggestion that African women must carry passes (sahistory)
This image is particularly important because it demonstrates the growing political power of women to shape their own destinies, through a medium (photography) that was a passport for many women artists into the modern art world. More than a simple record of an event that was remarkable for its time and place, this photograph clearly shows how much the representation of women has changed over time.
http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections. web. 05/05/2015
www.charleslebrun.com. web. 05/04/2015
www.marycassatt.org. web. 05/05/2015
www.sahistory.org. web. 05/04/2105