Around the mid 1800’s, British design was still looking upon Ancient Greek and Roman culture for inspiration as this was considered the classical ideal of beauty. Due to the emergence of mass-production during industrial Britain, the pursuit of beauty provided a form of escapism for many artists and designers of the time.
What was the subject of these artists who sought after painting beauty? Beautiful women. Some of the time women were portrayed as passive and decorative forms. More interestingly however, a lot of the time she was portrayed as a femme fatale, a brooding symbol of seduction, destruction and deception.
As women in the late Victorian Era campaigned for new roles in society and equal rights, its backlash was depicted in these paintings by the fearing and disapproving male artists. It seems since the beginning of time, women were seen as sexual beings solely created for the pleasure of men and at the same time seen as evil and destructive beings.
If we go back to what Classical Greek mythology classes as the ‘beginning of time’, we are taken back to the birth of the first woman, Pandora. As we know, she was given a box and ordered not to open it under any circumstances. Curiosity got the better of her and unimaginable evil was unleashed on a previously untroubled Earth. What struck me to know was Zeus used Pandora as a scapegoat to seek vengeance upon Prometheus, who stole fire from heaven. This depicts a negative and derogatory image of Pandora, the Earths first woman, at the hands of a male entity.
Another example of a woman being responsible for man’s downfall is Eve. Eve is perhaps seen as the first ever femme fatale as she persuades Adam to try the fruit that was expressively forbidden to them after being tempted by Satan. The painting ‘Eve Tempted’ along with others of the time showed women as manipulative, easily tempted and ultimately weak beings compared to men.
It got me thinking about how much has changed in the last 100 years and how much hasn’t. How relevant do you think these views are today on the portrayal of women?
Details: Jacket: Ralph Lauren, shirt: HnM, jeans-Topshop, scarf- Valentino, Bag-Chloe