''Beauty, delight, and joy''

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Posted by HSG on March 14, 2005 at 07:32:47:

In Reply to: Rubens Met exhibit: The Drawings posted by Emily on March 13, 2005 at 23:51:10:

Viewing curvaceous deities celebrated in works of Western art is always a refreshing experience--one that is all the more inspiring by the knowledge that the artists' aesthetic decisions were never clouded by political or social motivations. Western artists glorified plus-size goddesses simply because they believed that models with figures such as these represented the absolute ideal of physical beauty.

The cover page of the Prado Museum in Madrid currently features Rubens's Three Graces as the "painting of the month." Here some excerpts from the museum's official description of this famous work, which shows three full-figured goddesses in a mutual embrace:

Rubens depicts the three daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, or possibly Zeus and Hero. In Greek mythology these three women correspond to Aglaia (the dazzling), Euphrosyne (the joyful) and Thalia (the flowering).

The Graces lived on Mount Olympus along with the Muses and were the protectors of philosophers. They were the goddesses of beauty, delight and joy and their influence extended to artistic creation and spiritual endeavours.

Rubens follows previous tradition here and presents the three figures as nude and interlaced, one seen from behind and the other two in profile. He locates the Graces in the immediate foreground, emphasizing the softness of their naked, luminous bodies.

"Dazzling." "Joyful." "Flowering." Prior to the modern age, this is how Western culture viewed full-figured women. It regarded them as "goddesses of beauty, delight, and joy," and in showcasing their allure, artists made a point of "emphasizing the softness" of their figures.

It is our society, and its perception of generously-porportioned women, that has become unhealthy and misshapen. Plus-size beauty was, and still is, the natural human ideal.

Another fine Rubens drawing, titled Fortuna (1636-38), from the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin:

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