Meet the muses who inspired some of the world’s most iconic works of art | Smart News
The most iconic muses in art history beg us to ask more questions. Who were they? How were their lives? How did they know the artists who painted them? But their almost impenetrable nature, the way their character is both splashed on canvas and hidden away, defies our curiosity – and that is precisely what generates so much fascination. Just think of the mona-lisa‘s half-smile, so steeped in the public consciousness that a mere mention is a visceral reminder.
Discussions of muses usually focus on the artist first, with the painter as the creator and the muse as the model. But a new book says we got it all wrong. In Muse: discovering the figures hidden behind the masterpieces of art historyart historian and critic Ruth Millington explores the life of a collection of muses, the role they played in art history and the legacy they left in their own lives. According to art diaryby Gareth Harris and José da Silva, the 30 muses featured include an array of “unexpected and overlooked characters,” as well as more well-known personalities.
Millington’s analysis examines the muses of famous painters like Diego Velazquez, Pablo Picasso and Gustav Klimt. In the first chapter, she analyzes the 1650s of Velázquez portrait of his assistant then a slave, Juan de Pareja, whom the artist would later free from slavery. (De Pareja has become an artist in his own right.) In another, the researcher looks at the work of Picasso. crying womanan anguished 1937 portrait of her lover, the photographer Dora Mar. Millington also explores the history of Klimt’s longtime friend Emily Floegea fashion designer whose clothes figured in the painter’s work and who may have been depicted in The kiss (1907–08).
Muse pushes back the perception of muses as submissive, a blank canvas rather than one full of ideas. She compares our contemporary idea of the muse to the ancient greek muses, nine goddesses who represented the arts, rhetoric, tragedy, dance, and astronomy, among other disciplines. Epic poems like Hesiod Theogonythe Odyssey and the Iliad all begin with some sort of invocation to a goddess or muse.
“In their ancient origin, muses were far from being passive subjects for an artist to paint or write about,” says Millington. “Instead, they were agents of divine inspiration. The artist-muse relationship was revered, and poets, at their mercy, paid homage to these deities.
Millington’s own definition of muse is broad and unconventional, encompassing not just the person behind the portrait, but the celebrity who creates a specific picture, the movie star who plays a thousand roles in a Photo shoot and the artist whose favorite subject is to. These categorizations expand our very idea of what it means to be a muse.
The book is divided into seven chapters covering all facets of the muse: as an artist in her own right, as herself, as a member of the family, as a lover, as a performer, as a representative of an artistic movement and as a social member. message. Millington asks if muses are simply exploited or if they are inspirational forces with real agency. The answer, of course, is murky and lies somewhere in the middle.
When it comes to Picasso’s relationship with Maar, for example, the two were in many ways symbiotic, says Millington Dark Atlasit’s Sarah Durn. Picasso’s style may have influenced Maar’s own work, but she introduced him to photography and “his ultra-leftist politics at a time when it was really rare for women to be members of such parties. “. In fact, his bold political stance probably led the artist to paint Guernica, a sprawling black and white painting depicting the 1937 German bombardment of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War. The attack destroyed approximately 70 percent of Guernica and killed or injured 1,600 people, about a third of the city’s total population.
For Millington, Picasso used the word “muse” as something to hide behind, a way to obscure the real story.
“I have the impression that Picasso and other artists of the 20th century played in these myths of the muse”, says the author. Dark Atlas. “They presented this idea that to be a great artist, you could and maybe even had to be in possession of a muse. They also frame the muse in this power imbalance. ‘Artist’ is active. “Muse” is passive. »
Even Maar later called all of Picasso’s portraits of her “liesclaiming that “not one” represented her.
Other muses, like Elizabeth Siddalwho honored John Everett Millais Ophelia (1851-1852) as Hamlet’s unhappy lover, are usually depicted as tragic characters. The seating process for the painting proved to be quite arduous; Siddall lie in a bath full of water, with oil lamps underneath to keep the water hot, for hours.
“On one occasion the lamps went out and Millais was so absorbed in his painting that he didn’t even realize it,” notes Great Britainwhere the painting lies. “While posing for the painting, Elizabeth became very cold and very ill.” His father paid for a private doctor but then ordered Millais to fully cover the medical costs.
But even Siddal isn’t all her story makes her out to be. Indeed, writes Millington, the model was paid – and paid well – for her work.
“She modeled part-time alongside her job in the hat shop, but over time she turned the museum into a profitable career on her own,” adds Millington.
Other muses reflect a broader point. by Chris Ofili No woman No Cry (1998) portrayed doreen laurentwhose teenage son was stabbed to death in a racist attack in 1993. The portrait shows Lawrence with light blue tears streaming down her face. Inside each tear, Ofili placed a pasted photograph of her son Stephen.
“The painting can be read as a modern day Pietawrites Millington. “Echoing Mary’s grief-stricken figure, Ofili’s figure is treated with tenderness and intensity, invoking viewers’ compassion for Doreen Lawrence and all grieving mothers.
Modern muses, Millington suggests, are as artistic as the artists who represent them. As a photographer Tim Walker says the author, the portrait of a muse – versus a model – is like “a handshake, the embrace, the agreement where we meet halfway through a collaborative journey.”
“In today’s post-feminist world, women consciously continue to claim the role of an active and authoritative muse. Grace Jones, Beyoncé Knowles, Tilda Swinton – all of these women are great agents who choose to enter an artist-muse relationship on their own terms,” Millington writes. “Modern muses like these are instrumental in determining the final image.”