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Iconography And Iconology Of A Contemporary Image

Essay, Research Paper

Looking at the art of the past, we see many images depicting nude women. From Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to Ingres’s Grande Odelisque, many artists like the idea of painting a woman in the nude in an interesting pose. Even modern images in contemporary magazines depict nude images. Yves Saint Laurent’s advertisement of their new fragrance Opium depicts a nude woman covering her breast. Her pose is a symbol of the iconography, while beauty serves as the iconology. The understanding of the iconography and iconology of this image by contemporary society comes from the fact that the nude image was depicted in the great art of the past; however, the fact that society has become contemporary also serves to hinder their understanding of nude images.

The woman’s pose in the advertisment is depicted much like that of many great paintings from the past. Depictions of nude women began in the ancient Greek times when Praxiteles made a statue of Aphrodite. As Marilyn Stokstad explains in the textbook Art History, the statue of Aphrodite was a symbol of enchanting beauty and served as a model of high moral value. Sandro Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus shows Venus, the goddess of love, floating ashore on a scallop shell, arranging her hands and hair to hide, or maybe, enhance her sexuality. Jean Ingres’s Grande Odalisque depiction of a woman’s naked body turning away showed her eroticism and aloofness. Each of these art pieces shows the woman depicted in such a way to show her sexuality. The pose of the subjects is an iconography that is similar to that of the woman in the advertisement.

The advertisers portray the iconography of the advertisement through the pose of the woman. Iconography has to do with the depiction of signs and symbols in art. Many art pieces show the women posed in such a way to cover their breasts. For example, The Birth of Venus has arranged her hands and hair in such a way to hide her sexuality. The pose of the woman in the advertisement also shows the same thing. She is posed seductively to show off her body, yet she is covering one breast with her hand. When we think of nude figures, we think of art pieces in the past that depicted nude women in a certain pose. Therefore, the pose of the woman in the advertisement owes much to the pose of nude women in art pieces of the past. Because nudity was depicted in great art of the past, we are not surprised when we see a nude image in a magazine. Instead, we view nudity as a symbol of beauty.

The real purpose of a nude image is to show the woman’s beauty, not her sexuality; this is the iconology of the image. This image of the woman in a seductive pose in the advertisement is meant to draw the reader’s attention to the product. The advertisers want to show how “beautiful “ this new fragrance is by having a beautiful nude woman pose for their ad. The art of the past that depicted nude women were meant to show their beauty also. For example, the statue of Aphrodite by Praxiteles depicted the goddess in a seductive pose, but the statue was interpreted as a symbol of enchanting beauty. Beauty is shown through sexuality and seductiveness, as evidenced by the nude women in the art pieces. This is also shown in the advertisement for the fragrance.

Although the image in the advertisement is similar to that of the art pieces, the iconography and iconology of a nude image has changed over time. The contemporary society has given rise to different ideas of what nudity represents. Many people, when they see a nude image now, do not think of beauty. Instead, they think of something sexual. The pose of the woman in the advertisement is not there to enhance her beauty, but to show her sexuality; those are the thoughts of the contemporary society. There are people who know what nudity really represents, but there are many more that see it as erotic.

When people see an image of a nude woman on television or a magazine, they are not surprised by the amount of skin that the woman is showing. They understand that the woman is a depiction of beauty, much like nude women depicted in the art of the past. Even though contemporary society has changed the views of what people think about when they see a nude image, the art of the past has helped shaped what most people’s thoughts on a nude image’s iconography and iconology are.

Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. and Prentice Hall, Inc. 1999.