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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Body Compare: What Kinds of Messages Can Be Conveyed Through a Body’s Posture and Pose?

Madame X (Madame Gautreau)

Madame X (Madame Gautreau)
Artist / Origin: John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Region: Europe
Date: 1883–84
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 82 1/8 in. (208.6 cm.), W: 43 ¼ in. (109 cm.)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund/Photo by Max Yawney

Fragment of a wall relief showing the sister of Djehutyhotep

Fragment of a wall relief showing the sister of Djehutyhotep
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist, Deir el-Bersha, Egypt
Region: Africa
Date: Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1850 BCE
Period: 3000 BCE – 500 BCE
Material: Painted limestone relief
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: 28 ¼ in. (71.5 cm.), W: 12 ¼ (33.5 cm.)
Location: The British Museum, London, UK
Credit: © British Museum/Art Resource, NY

What kinds of messages can be conveyed through a body’s posture and pose?

For thousands of years, the female body has been a primary subject in art. How this body has been represented can give us insight into a given culture’s sex and gender ideologies, its ideals of beauty, and its attitudes toward the body. Painted thousands of years apart, Sargent’s Madame X and Djehutyhotep’s sister strike a similar pose. Viewed within their original contexts, however, they communicated very different ideas.

Questions to Consider

  • Madame X strikes a pose quite similar to that of the woman on the ancient Egyptian wall fragment, yet the images are markedly different in their overall effect. Describe the differences between the two. What do you think each artist was trying to achieve visually and to what end?
  • How does each of these images address ideals about gender and the body in its respective culture?
  • What kinds of information can bodies convey in art? Keeping in mind the two pictures above, do you think that the way we understand posture and pose is culturally specific or universal?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


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