This Knee is a Royal Pain: The Birth of Venus

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Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863
This Knee is a Royal Pain: Disney Princesses & Art
By SARAH XU

Greetings, loved ones. Let’s take a journey.

Disney princesses: idolized by youngsters, teenagers’ love life aspirations, adults’ worst nightmares. A never-ending nap? A girl taken hostage by a beast? A girl with hair long enough and strong enough to climb? A mermaid that becomes human? A maid who marries a prince? Where did Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm brothers, and the other writers get these creative ideas? Let’s take a look at some possible inspirations.

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Painted in 1863, it is a short 96 years before the creation of Sleeping Beauty in 1959. The three cherubs directly about Venus represent the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, fretting over Sleeping Beauty. The far left cherub stealthily flying away depicts Maleficent content with her actions. She will soon be followed by her raven accomplice, who is presently occupied with a seashell.

The Birth of Venus is based off of the myth of Venus's creation from sea-foam. The light colors of the sfumato technique Cabanel used helps glorify and draw attention to her beauty. However, the painting is lacking the notorious dolphins and her chariot shell. Some critics believe the moment painted is the moment directly after her birth, so the chariot shell and the dolphins have yet to arrive. At the time, nude paintings caused an uproar, shown in the negative reactions to Olympia painted by Edouard Manet. Manet’s painting was painted the same year as The Birth of Venus and also had a similar composition, yet Manet received much more criticism. Venus’s popular myth, along with her relaxed stare and pose produced a painting that was acceptable for viewers, since painting such a classical subject makes nudity tolerable.

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