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A Brief Survey Of The Best Boobs In Art History
Whatever art history is, it certainly isn’t representative when it comes to those
Art Girls Jungle 22 Aug 2019

Stop what you’re doing and take a look at these art historical titties. Luckily (or unfortunately?), we work in one of the only industries where looking at nudes all day isn’t considered NSFW. (The other is porn). That means that, unlike your finance friends, you can safely scroll through the hottest new art account at your desk. Meet @titsfromthepast, your new go-to source for expertly painted boobies. The name is wonderfully literal: expect an uninterrupted compilation of tits in art.

Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses sœurs (Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her sisters), c. 1594. Author unknown.

Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses sœurs (Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her sisters), c. 1594. Author unknown.


Scrolling through the feed (while trying to hide my laptop screen from view at a public café), I couldn’t help but notice that all the twins seemed to be of the identical variety. If art history is to be believed, all women have identical, perky white breasts roughly the size of oranges, topped with tiny pink nipples. The perfect size and texture to serve as a sexy stress ball for the lucky gentleman suitor. From the last few decades of feminist art and IG accounts like @girlgaze, we know that this simply isn’t true. Whatever art history is, it certainly isn’t representative when it comes to tits.

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The Enchantress, Falero Luis Ricardo, 1878

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By cropping in close on the breasts of art historical nudes, @titsfromthepast brings the art historical male gaze into uncomfortable focus. Scrolling through, I began to squirm, and not just from the judging stares boring into my back. The experience felt like what I imagine it would be like to walk through the Louvre as a pervy old dude—or a thirteen-year-old boy. Gazing intently at the old masterpieces through horn-rimmed glasses, I would look like the ideal art connoisseur. But if a mind reader could peer inside my head, gently cocked to one side in deep contemplation, she would find just one word emblazoned there: boobs.
Of course, I can’t speak for all men—or any men, really, not being one. But if anyone can, it’s Jerry Saltz, often accused of being an old pervy art dude himself. He said, and I quote: “My people – men – are pathetic.”


But let’s not dump all the blame on the Y chromosome. We all play a part in keeping the cultural spotlight trained on sexytime. Although we’re making leaps of progress on the representation front—today, all body types, gender identities and sexual orientations are more visible than ever before—we’re arguably just as obsessed with sex today as the cultures of the past.

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Cleopatra, Benedetto Gennari junior, between 1674-1675

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In more conservative eras, art was one of the only spheres of polite society that openly allowed naked tits and butts, especially under the alibi of classical culture. (That’s why critics got their panties in a twist over Goya’s Nude Maja, but no one batted an eyelash over Venus in her birthday suit). Slowly but surely, over the last century, the prude Victorian era melted into the other extreme. Today, a celebrity without a sex tape or nude photo leak is hardly a celebrity at all. After the sexual liberation of the ‘60s, sex permeates all aspects of pop culture, even if outright nudity is still somewhat censored and regulated (in movie ratings, for example).

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Sant’Agata, Lorenzo Lippi, 1638

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Today, the cultural war wages on the identity front. The question isn’t whether or not we can show boobs, but whose boobs we choose to show. Are the boobs white, brown or black? Big or small? Conventionally attractive, or a little droopy? Do they have stretch marks? A few nipple hairs? Even better.
Slowly but surely, the conversation around nudity is shifting away from sex. Several generations of feminist artists, starting perhaps with Hannah Wilke, have used nudity in a way that our sex-obsessed culture struggles to grasp. By baring their boobs in the open, they’re slowly desexualizing them, and naked bodies in general. Breasts are taking on meanings above and beyond mere sexuality: a life-giving source of nourishment, a symbol of female liberation (remember bra burning?), and at the end of the day, just another body part.


It’s hard to say if these efforts actually move us past our collective Freudian complexes or just give them a broader base of ammunition. Going back to my thirteen-year-old boy alter-ego—if he walks through the Louvre and sees boobs of all shapes and sizes, not just perky marble peaches, will that lead him to deep contemplation on the nature of female representation? Or simply teach him to drool over boobs of all shapes and sizes? Kind of makes me wonder where we’d be on, say, climate change if we didn’t spend so much time and energy talking about tits. The hope, of course, is that by freeing sex from centuries of repression, we can finally cool our obsession and restore it to its natural corner in our existence.

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La cigale, Jules Lefebvre, 1872

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On a deeper level, it’s the age-old question of whether human society can evolve to transcend our most primal urges—or if boys will always be boys. After years of sexual repression, titties are finally out in the open. What next?
 
Text by Katya Lopatko 
Image via Wikipedia.

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