The Seductress Women in Art
Uploaded by baadasskid69 on Oct 27, 2011
This essay examines the representation of women in three paintings Munch’s Vampire, Moreau’s Oedipus and the Sphinx, and Regnault’s Salome.
Art is one of the most subjective of human activities. We may think a painting is superb while the person standing next to us thinks it’s dreadful. That’s why no two people will describe a work of art in the same way; that’s also why art is endlessly fascinating.
This paper looks at three 19th Century paintings of women, and compares and contrasts them. (There are quite a few discussion points given; I’m not going to repeat them here.) The three paintings are all of powerful, seductive, perhaps even evil, women: Moreau’s Oedipus and Sphinx; Regnault’s Salome; and Munch’s Vampire.
II The Works
Let me briefly describe the works, then simply answer the questions about them. The first is Moreau’s Oedipus and the Sphinx. The context of the painting is the myth of Oedipus, who must answer the Sphinx’s riddle or die. He answers successfully, and she throws herself from the cliff in mortification. The Thebans are so grateful that they make him king, which leads to tragedy. But the horrible events that are familiar to us from the plays are in the future.
In this painting, which is the most disturbing of the three, the Sphinx is clinging to Oedipus. The creature has the head and breast of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle, and her back feet are braced against Oedipus’ torso while her front paws/hands clutch his chest. He doesn’t appear to be supporting her at all. We can’t see his right hand, but he holds his spear with his left, so it appears that she is clinging to him. She appears to be perhaps 4-5 feet tall—not the fearsome lion of the legends. The two are gazing into each other’s eyes and seem very much like lovers. At the bottom of the picture are a naked foot and a gnarled hand; apparently the body or bodies of the Sphinx’s previous victims.
Salome by Henri Regnault is a very unusual treatment of the subject. We often see her with the head of John the Baptist, or doing the infamous dance, but Regnault has depicted her, as Moreau did with Oedipus, before the events that...