Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Three Graces

I spent about 5 hours today researching paintings to use in a workshop I'll be giving at the Quaker Women's Retreat the end of January.  I'll be talking about Women's Body Image and showing images of how women have been portrayed down through the ages.  I plan to include slides of my paintings in the mix.  I'm looking forward to learning from the participants as we explore together this fascinating topic.

One thing I did today was to find paintings of The Three Graces by many different artists.  It's interesting to see how they chose to portray these women at different times in history.  The Three Graces are goddesses of such things as charm, beauty, and creativity.  It's fascinating to see all the different versions that have come down over the years and how women are portrayed in each.

Pompei, 1100

Corregio, The Three Graces, 1519

Raphael 1504

Rubens, 1620, with his voluptuous nudes - definitely not flat-bellied and tight-tushed.  Below is a fascinating quote from a medical website about this picture.  Amazing what you can find on the internet!

Rubens was one of main baroque painters who practices realism, which means that he painted whatever his eyes capture. That fact has helped us with the visual aspect and the circumstances where such paintings were painted. This has allowed us to discover alterations in the breast of the models he painted, which suggest breast cancer. Such painting are 'The three Graces', 'Diana and her nymphs pursued by satires', 'Orpheus and Euridice'. In 'The three Graces' we can see that the model on the right has an open ulcer with reddening of the skin, nipple retraction, reduction of breast volume as well as axilar lymph nodes. This is a visual aspect of a locally advanced breast cancer. In Diana and her nymphs pursued by satires and in Orpheus and Euridice we can see a breast retraction in the same place as in 'The three Graces', which suggest breast cancer indirectly. The analysis of the tumor mass in the models of these pictures allow us to know more on the works, the social environment and the diseases happened in the years this painter lived.

Another Rubens, 1620

Tintoretto, 1577

Dali and his surrealistic representation, 1938

Picasso from his blue period.  Not very compassionate views of these women, nor joyful as in the other pictures.

Tessa Nunn, contemporary

Michael Seewald, A humorous modern version

Leonard Nimoy's take on it.  He did a whole series of pictures with obese women.  They're quite wonderful!  Full of joy and playfulness and beauty.

mid 20th Century bronze plaque

Maria Figueroa Kupcu

And one of the strangest, not quite the totally feminine depiction.  Joel-Peter Witkin, 1988

Artists certainly do find a lot of different ways to express the same idea!  The individual artist's interpretations vary almost as much as they do through the ages.  I have my own version I'll be painting in the next few months from photos I took of a great sister-sister-daughter group.  Can't wait to start them now that I've gotten so inspired by all of these!


  1. Wow - pretty damn cool. I'm always amazed when I think I'm the first person to make a creative discovery only to find out it's been done about a million times before.

  2. Rose freymuth-frasier also does a similar Three Graces but hers is called Three Nurses.