The classical vision of beauty exemplified in Greek art, such as the 2nd century B.C. Venus de Milo (a.k.a. Aphrodite of Milos), was an ideal carried through millennia, laying the basis for much of Western art's depictions of the human form.
The Three Graces
The Renaissance artist Raphael's "The Three Graces" (c. 1501-1505), at the Musee Conde in Chantilly, France, may have been based not on live models but on classical sculpture. It personifies goddess-like beauty while harmoniously depicting classical virtues (the Graces reward virtue with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides).
Venus and the Lute Player
Titian finished "Venus and the Lute Player" (1565--70) when he was a young 83. It combines visual beauty with music -- one inspiring the other? -- and presents a Venus with a decidedly larger midsection than her Greek antecedents.
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a prolific 17th century Flemish painter whose name entered the lexicon thanks to the full-bodied women he depicted. "The Three Graces" (1636-1638) illustrates as well as any of the artist's works the adjective Rubenesque. Time Magazine art critic Richard Lacayo said contemporary audiences associated the abundance found in Rubens' figures with "power, with happiness, with pleasure."
The Large Bathers
"The Large Bathers" (1884-1887) is a full-figured nude study by Impressionist Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919), whose works evoke sensuality whether the subjects are dressed or not. Joe Rishel, senior curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, describes the work as "a great celebration of abundance."
Unlike members of the Cubist or Modernist movements, Kenyon Cox (1856-1919) was an American illustrator and art instructor whose work infused allegory with naturalism. His 1891 painting "A Blonde" was criticized at the time of its unveiling for being "too realistic," said Bruce Weber, senior curator of the National Academy Museum in New York.
"Mujer Fumando (Smoking Woman)," a 1987 work by Colombian artist Fernando Botero (who is renowned for his rotund sculptures), is going on the auction block in November 2009. Christie's New York, which describes the work as the artist's celebration of a woman's "corporal fullness," estimates the sale will garner $800,000-1,200,000.
These African statues are more stylistically representational. "In African art, very often the purpose of the work is to create a religious figure, and it's to express a certain kind of power symbolically," said critic Richard Lacayo.
A woman examines sculptures and paintings in a Paris retrospective of Swiss Surrealist artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) at the Georges Pompidou art center, produced in collaboration with the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation, in this Oct. 15, 2007 file photo.
Going Once, Going Twice . . .
British artist Lucien Freud offered a startling variation on the classic reclining nude with his painting titled "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping." Nicknamed "Big Sue," the work -- a sort of "super-sized" Rubenesque work -- captured a super-sized $33.6 million at auction at Christie's last year, the highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist.