Monday, June 11, 2007

Giuseppe de Nittis: "Return From The Ball"

Is there a more obvious way to draw attention to female breasts than to locate them at the exact center of a painting? Today we often complain about the ubiquity of sex and sexual innuendo everywhere we turn our heads: on the street, in advertising and in entertainment. We often forget that this is not a novel fashion. This painting serves as a potent example...

The theme that underlies this work is objectification: of the depicted characters as the imaginary objects of our desire; of women who attend balls and wear such fanciful dresses, which, I have no doubt were in the contemporary vogue. The faces of these girls are turned away from the viewer - they seem to be tiptoeing in order to remain unseen and unheard. But the message is clear - it is not their heads that matter, it is their bodies, - which look at us, more than eloquent in their seduction. These two were meant to be the center of attention at the ball, and now they are the center of attention on this canvas.

I fail to focus on any other aspect of this piece. The girls are probably excited and just had a lot of fun. As I have learned from War and Peace, balls were a grand entertainment and meant a lot to contemporary women, socially and economically. But neither the richness of their dresses nor the somewhat naive peeking (it is unclear whether they are looking inside or outside of a house) manage to distract from the central aforementioned theme. And this makes it a powerful work of art.

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