Sensual images of women, even fully naked ones, are commonplace in contemporary culture. But it was not always thus, as a look back at the Middle Ages reveals, when the representation of female nudity was inconceivable outside a tightly circumscribed framework defined by religious strictures. It was not until the early sixteenth century that the depiction of women and their bodies became established as a popular and versatile theme.
At that time, Women were rendered as seductive Venuses, as virtuous heroines of ancient myth or Old Testament legend, as embodiments of fatal Fortuna and Vanitas. But they also appeared as cunning rulers over men, devious harlots, or odious witches.
These motifs figured primarily in discourses of morality, reflecting the prevailing values and ideals of the time. Their effect on the viewer often hovers between sensual pleasure and moralizing exhortation. Yet it was this very ambivalence that made “Womanhood” an attractive subject—and one that often courted controversial debate. Depictions of femininity are thus not only a rewarding object of art-historical study, they are also interesting in a wider perspective on cultural history, in which they tie in with many issues under discussion today.
The exhibition presents ca. 110 works: drawings, prints, and paintings. Selections from the outstanding treasures in the Kunstmuseum’s Kupferstichkabinett (Department of Prints and Drawings) are complemented by pieces on loan from renowned Swiss and international collections.