Manet, Edouard. Olympia. 1863. Oil Paint. Musee D'Orsay, Paris, France.
In 1863, Edouard Manet created an intriguing oil painting titled "Olympia," that I have recently been analyzing in my college photography class. The painting portrays a nude woman laying on a bed with a dark skinned person holding flowers in the background and a black cat. One of the questions that we speculated in class was who the woman in the painting could be, in general. I believe that the woman commands a certain status of wealth or power because of her body language and the objects of luxury depicted within the painting.
First off, the woman is nude and physically exposed; which could be looked as being open and vulnerable. However, her body language says other wise because she appears relaxed and reclined upon a bed with huge pillows. The woman's legs are crossed over each other, a sign that can be interpreted as discomfort or insecurity, yet her facial expression appears almost bored. If anything, the woman appears at ease with her nudity and her eyes appear to see right over my head, as if my discomfort at her appearance is of no concern. I have also recently been getting a sense of sadness from the thought that she may also be simply looking over my head out to the distance, lost in a troubling thought that she cannot be helped in. Also, her eyes just show dark pupils as if her lids were hooded; a body sign that people often have if they are tired or sad [seriously, how many sad or tired people are often wide awake, showing the whites of their eyes or light reflecting off of them?]. If I am correct to presume that she holds wealth or power, people of that status often had carried secrets and burdens alone, and she could be no exception. Other than her body language, there are also objects within the oil painting that could allude to her wealth or power.
There is a large bouquet of flowers,a white bed with large white pillows, and a blanket with golden tassels. Starting with the flowers, they are not simply within a vase but are in the hands of a dark skinned person; who appear to be offering them to her. The act that these flowers could be an offering show a display of giving a gift to another person that is deemed worthy, important, or powerful in comparison to the person giving the flowers. Then the bed and large pillows, are signs of some wealth, because back in the 1800's the average commoner may not have had access to such comfort items. I have also analyzed that bed and pillows are both white, a symbol of purity, as well as a show of cleanliness. Cleanliness back in the 1800's would have been difficult without washing machines as they would be hand washed; thus needing a cleaning product as well as access to clean water that the average person may not have afforded to have at their expense. A blanket with designs and golden tassels had to also be an object of wealth because of the amount of effort and material that would have gone into creating it. Again, I am going to say, that the average commoner in the later 1800's probably could not afford to have this item either.
While analyzing this painting, or any painting, I strongly believe it is important to keep either the time period that the art was completed or the artist's intended time period, in mind. There are always going to be some sort of social classes or power rankings in all civilizations and in the painting "Olympia," I strongly believe the woman held a status of power or wealth. I am aware of the speculated fact that Edouard intended the portrayed woman to be a prostitute. Even if she was a prostitute, she had to have some connections or power that entitles her to be surrounded by such objects of wealth. Overall, I believe her body language is the most important because she exhibits confidence with herself lying nude and airs superiority; if not command. A person can buy and surround themselves with riches and wealth, but a true person of power is able to exhibit it through their body language and actions.