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Gender Relations and Sexuality in Paintings Essay

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Updated: Jul 11th, 2021

The contrast between the sensual artistic style of Rubens’s Abduction of the Daughters of Leucippus and strict religious ideology of that time raises the question of gender relations and social attitudes towards women in society. The gender symbolism is represented by the masculine figures of Castor and Pollux and feminine figures of Phoebe and Hilaeira. The women’s bodies are depicted as soft, fleshy, and voluptuous, which allows for assuming that these qualities were considered to be attractive and intrinsically feminine.

In turn, the men’s bodies are depicted as muscular and darker skinned. The theme of men dominance burdens the central figures on the painting, and the female nude is an indication of patriarchal society, male power, and suppression. Irrespective of a woman’s class and marital status, she was helpless. Speaking of gender behavior, men were considered to have privilege over women’s bodies, whereas women were vulnerable, emotional, and relied on society to protect their virtue. Contrary to men, women were confined to the domestic setting and experienced social constraints, which is expressed by the female nude.

The Swing by Fragonard depicts inequality between the old man who could be the husband and the carefree lady and her lover. Contrary to the old man who is busy pushing the lady, the other two parties seem to be happy. It can be assumed that women were considered to be playful and unfaithful. Men, in turn, were considered to be either ignorant husbands or desperate lovers. The frivolity of the picture is represented by the lover peeking inside the lady’s skirt. Unconcealed sexuality of the lady expressed by her shoe flying around poses a striking contrast to the refined manner in which women of that time had to behave. It can be said that though belonging to high-class society, the lady is portrayed as a thoughtless object of desire and admiration of the man of her class. The lover’s sexuality is depicted through his subtle and romantic features and a powdered wig.

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IvyPanda. "Gender Relations and Sexuality in Paintings." July 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-relations-and-sexuality-in-paintings/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Gender Relations and Sexuality in Paintings." July 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-relations-and-sexuality-in-paintings/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Gender Relations and Sexuality in Paintings'. 11 July.

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