Transport for London (TfL) made a very ludicrous decision a couple of days ago by banning this image of Venus.
The reason for the ban is due to a tube guideline against depicting “men, women or children in a sexual manner, or display nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context”.
Thankfully, TfL have seen the error of their ways after being put under pressure and the image of Venus will be now used on the underground to advertise the exhibition.
“On reflection, given its context, the Cranach exhibition poster should not have been rejected and we have now approved the ad to be carried on the tube.”
TfL claim they were thinking of the commuters who may be offended by this work of art. Instead of letting the viewer make up his/her mind, TfL made the decision for us by deeming it too shocking to display. Surely it shouldn’t be about averting our eyes in shock and indignation but more of focusing our gaze on the image, giving us the chance to make up our minds rather than TfL? The TfL guidelines lack perspective and context.
Art is a broad spectrum as it can be troublesome, in-your-face, mediocre, shocking and indeed can push the boundaries. It is subjective, based on tastes, dislikes and artistic licence. The fact that a 500 year painting can evoke consternation reveals an element of prudery and fear of nudity.
And the fact that Venus was part of this bureaucratic decision making process that doesn’t relate to the meaning of the painting. What Venus does represent is Cranach’s interpretation of the female nude (something to be celebrated as opposed to banned!) and that shows his understanding (or lack of) of female anatomy. There is an implicit beauty in his painting.
It is a very simple primitive medieval construct of a naked woman, who is coquettishly draping a piece of transparent fabric across her body. Her breasts small, she has a stomach, curvaceous hips but her body is out of proportion. Her stylised face emphasises her smile (kinda “come hither smile”). The aesthetics are evenly balanced, the background contrasts nicely with the flesh tones of her body. Overall the painting is of a sexual woman comfortable in her own skin. Again, this is a 21st century interpretation of a 16th century piece of art.
The composition also seems to hark back an earlier classical time as Venus looks like a painting of a statue. Cranach’s interpretation of the goddess of love is a straightforward simple composition in contrast to the more lavish painting by Botticelli.
Cranach was part of the reformation period and the transition in art was noticeable (differences between Germany and Italy) for that period yet he seems wedded in a more medieval time.
If TfL had succeeded in their attempt to ban this picture due to their prosaic guidelines on “sexualised nudity” then we wouldn’t be able to engage with the meaning of the picture or just being able to simply look at it.
Contradictorily, society is saturated with sexualised advertising images yet, I suppose, the use of sex for marketing is a form of worship at the altar of capitalism. The commodification of sex in the cause of making money is more acceptable than viewing a painting from the distant past.