Toilet of Venus

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Diego Velazquez, Toilet of Venus, 1647-51
While this Toilet of Venus lacks the grandeur of Boucher's Rococo-styled Venus (painted in 1703), it stands as an important representation of Velasquez work. It's subject matter was rare and quite bold as it went against what the Catholic Church found tasteful. For this reason, very few female nudes were done at the time of the Inquisition. This painting is Velasquez's only piece depicting a female nude that has survived to this date, but only barely. In 1914, The Toilet of Venus had suffered a malicious attack at its home in the National Gallery in London.

In the early twentieth century, England was undergoing a violent suffragette movement. One afternoon, one Mary Richardson entered the National Gallery, which was open to the public. She carried in with her a meat grinder. Mary Richardson approached the Velazquez and dealt several slashes. This attack was one of several on the National Gallery, which lead them to denying entry to women for a brief time. The message this group of militant Suffragists were attempting to get across reverberated through to the frames of these canvases. Mary hated the way men would ogle Venus' naked body before her viewers.

As a self-proclaimed art student, Mary Richardson made a statement over the power the gallery held; although, the act of slashing the painting was a dramatic form of revenge. Emmaline Pankhurst was an activist and major voice in the movement for women's voting rights. When the Conciliation Bill did not pass, which would have granted women's suffrage, Pankhurst lead a violent revolt where "women were thrown from one policeman to another who punched them with fists, striking the women in their faces,breasts and shoulders." She was then jailed for the chaos. Mary Richardson had destroyed the painting in protest of her imprisonment. "I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history."While all the damage was successfully restored, these attacks were horrific actions that jeopardized Velazquez's triumphant nude.


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