As this site has often asserted, today's plus-size models embody the ideal of full-figured feminine beauty that was celebrated in Western art from the dawn of time.
Intriguingly, a Paris museum devoted to the work of a celebrated 19th-century painter recently undertook a project which vividly underscores this fact.* * *
Anyone who has a passing familiarity with the Christian religion will know the tale of the beheading of John the Baptist at the hands of King Herod, spurred on by his consort, Herodias:
Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.
Throughout the centuries, artists often depicted the said Herodias as an archetypically sinful, wicked woman, selfish enough to wish for a man's death to suit her own purposes, but possessed of beauty so darkly alluring that she could enslave the heart of a king.
One of the most striking depictions of Herodias is this 1887 masterpiece
by the Academic Classicist painter Jean-Jacques Henner. Observe how much she resembles a present-day plus-size model, one with a genuinely curvaceous physique. Her arms, attractively full and dimpled at the elbows, exhibit the soft, contoured shape that derives from indulgence, not exertion. She is amply buxom and has a visibly swell of roundness at the waist. Her reverse-view curves appear generous as well. In her choice of gown, she confirms the ideal wardrobe choice for full-figured models: strapless and sleeveless. The dress is cut low to reveal an abundant quantity of her décolletage, while the close fit at the ample waist reveals her well-fed physique. The fabric's colour betokens her character--red being the archetypal hue of sin and passion. Her tresses are long and luxuriant. In every way, she appears to be a vain seductress, given to lavish self-indulgence, confident in the power of her luscious beauty to secure her whatever she desires. Her gaze indicates that she is completely untroubled by her crime.
On December 1st, 2011, as described in this account, the Henner Museum in Paris staged an exhibition titled Through the Eyes of Henner. For this event, the museum commissioned the creation of a series of photographs that would, via contemporary models and skilful photography, closely reproduce the artist's paintings in look and atmosphere.
For the show's unveiling, visitors were invited to tour the museum and meet these "living pictures" in person, with the models in question posing right next to their photographs, both set alongside the source paintings.
As you can see, the Henner Museum's recreation of Herodias is astoundingly successful. The original masterpiece hangs on the wall, the contemporary photograph sits on an easel, and the model stands to the right--platter and severed head in hand. She resembles Henner's original down to the smallest detail, sharing her lusciously full arms and buxom voluptuousness. Like Henner's biblical temptress, she has the exact appearance of present-day plus-size fashion model.
A different angle shows that she also possesses the seductive swell of roundness that distinguishes Henner's Herodiade. The most popular of today's full-figured models (e.g. Sophie, Kelsey, Katherine, Mayara, Lindsey) exhibit generous midriffs such as hers.
Yet another angle illustrates how her auburn tresses tumble down her back in a luxurious profusion.
Observe the sensual swell of flesh escaping the confines of the gown at the model's upper back--another alluring characteristic that she shares with many top plus-size models. Such physical details of softness are expressions of ideal feminine beauty.
Here is the actual photograph that the Henner Museum created to replicate the Herodias painting. As the preceding images demonstrate, the opulent shape of the model's physique was not generated in Photoshop, but taken from life.
Could there be a more telling visual to indicate that today's living, flesh-and-blood plus-size models bring to life the timeless ideal of full-figured beauty than this side-by-side comparison? Henner's 19th-century masterpiece is on the left, while the present-day photograph, depicting a living full-figured model, is on the right.
Given the astounding success of this then-and-now comparison, it would be extremely beneficial for today's plus-size fashion industry to reference the great artworks of the past, which universally celebrate generously proportioned womanly beauty, in creating full-figured fashion campaigns and photoshoots.* * *
The beauty of today's plus-size models, with all of the visible characteristics of well-fed femininity that they possess--their buxom contours, full arms, sumptuous waists, and generous reverse-view curves--was represented in Western art as the ideal of female attractiveness throughout history. And the history of Western art is, in all things, an unerring guide to escaping the malaise of modernity and rediscovering the true path of cultural greatness.
Plus-size beauty is neither "alternative beauty" nor merely "another kind of beauty"; rather, it is beauty itself, the very essence of it, as viewed by every great culture throughout history.
Plus-size models bring to life the beauty that is encoded in the supreme aesthetic achievements of Western man. They are a lodestone that can restore the ideal that gave the West form and purpose throughout its history.
They are living works of art.
- The Judgment of Paris Pinacotheca