The Limits of Beauty

The second presentation of the Interior and Spatial Design Lecture Series was by Adam Jasper, a design journalist with articles published in Cabinet Magazine, Vice and Art & Australia and Frieze. He discussed the limits of beauty in art and art history and in the form and function of design. To explore these ideas, Jasper focused on varying versions of the Anatomical Venus.

To open the lecture, an image of Venus de Milo (150BC) was shown. Venus de Milo is an ancient Greek sculpture and is one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. The statue is a visual depiction of Greek goddess, Aphrodite, who represents love and beauty. In its original state, this sculpture was a realistic depiction, with the skin and facial features accurately coloured, and the surface ornamented with jewellery. In contrast to this image of perfection, the sculpture has eroded overtime and is now a fragment of its initial form and appearance. This damaged artefact “speaks to the fate of all art” as we are reminded of the time of its origin. A change in the portrayal of Aphrodite in art can be seen in throughout art history and therefore reflects the context of which each piece was created. As Aphrodite was a symbol of beauty, this suggests that there is a constant shift in what is considered beautiful and ideal. This can be seen in Giorgione’s ‘Sleeping Venus’, Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ (which was inspired by Giorgione’s painting with similarities in theme and the pose of the model) as well as the ‘Venus of Willendorf.’

The following image was of one of the most famous Anatomical Venuses from the La Specola Collection in Florence. ‘Anatomical Venuses’ are models of idealised women, extremely realistically constructed. These figures were originally designed for education purposes, but due to the detail and precision used in their creation, they were also considered works of art. The model consists of removable parts that can be removed and replaced like a puzzle. To ‘dissect’ the Venus, a breastplate is taken off to reveal the internal organs, often with a foetus in the womb (which Jasper pointed out, a foetus that developed is very disproportional to the rest of the body in this example). In the 19th century, the anatomical Venus intrigued members of society, and so, it was commonly the centrepiece of museums and exhibitions.

Anatomical Venuses are beautiful but also educational. This fusion between art and science is rarely seen as these fields are usually opposed. The Anatomical Venus  (also known as the medical Venus) shares similarities with the representations of Classical Venus in art, both expressing innocence and naivety in the way that the model is posed. However the Anatomical Venus was designed for medical and educational purposes in contrast to the Classical Venus that focused on Aphrodite’s beauty and the idealised image of women.

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