Modigliani’s nudes: sex-conscious

It was here that I asked the question whether women are driven by their desire to be liked and wanted by men or not. And then I asked you to remember the answer, because we’ll need to take it out of your pocket at the end of this post.

Modigliani was often quoting different artists when composing his paintings.

This nude is modelled after Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus:

But there is a difference you can’t help noticing. The left hand that covers private parts in Giorgione’s composition is missing in Modigliani’s painting, and the body of the lady is twisted (see white arrow):

Why would Amedeo ask the model to twist her body in such an unnatural way?

Giorgione’s Venus is flat on her back, relaxed, convincingly asleep and unaware of us looking at her. Modigliani’s model is both on her back and her right side, which is very uncomfortable and doesn’t go well will the relaxed posture of a sleeping person. So, she’s not asleep, she just closed her eyes, she knows we are looking and she isn’t ashamed to expose her body to us. 

She’s probably thinking, “Fifteen more minutes, and I will have my spine twisted so much I’ll need a doctor!”

Modigliani gets rid of her legs. Legs are not what he wants us to look at. The lines are diffused, the brushstrokes loose, very different from what we see in other parts of the body.  He even doesn’t pay much attention to the number of fingers on her feet (women’s feet definitely were not Amedeo’s fetish, but he had a Spanish friend Pablo who was footfetishing for the whole artistic community in Paris).

Modigliani wants us to linger at the tension (the conflict) moment – the part of the body  where the twist is taking place. We see the eyes, the breasts, and then focus on the part where there’s the twist. Most viewers do not consciously register the twist, their eyes just get fixated there.

Amedeo’s model “INNOCENTLY” SEDUCES MEN BY EXPOSING HERSELF TO THEM without much shame, pretending she doesn’t know they are looking. So men keep looking at her, almost groping her with their eyes, like in this cartoon, being misled into the belief that she doesn’t know about it:

For better groping, Modigliani sculpted the body in a very erotic way. He will not usually go for subtle gradient change when painting “volumes”, but he is doing it here:

Now if you just glance up at the feet above you’ll see the difference in technique I was writing about.

To understand what I meant under subtle sculpting, you can bounce the body above off his other works, e.g. this seated nude of 1917:

Modigliani was inspired by old masters, but his almost immediate predecessors provided just as much material to dwell on. The body posture we see in Modigliani’s painting was borrowed from a very famous canvas, Cabanel’s the Birth of Venus. Today, you will find this painting with difficulty inside the huge D’Orsay building, but in 1863, when it was painted, it grabbed the top prize at the Autumn Salon and was purchased by the Emperor himself (it was the year when the Emperor gracefully allowed unacademic painters to exhibit works not accepted by the official Salon. We know it today as Salon des Refuses during which Manet’s Breakfast created quite a stir).

Cabanel’s Venus has her eyes slightly open and that makes it simple pornography. She is seducing the viewer, not even trying to pretend she’s anything more than a piece of nicely shaped flesh for the erotic entertainment of the nuveau bourgeois”. Effectively, she’s just a “playmate of the new rich”.

Even when Modigliani was painting women of liberal attitudes about sex with strangers, he was making them sophisticated women, who are not easily accessible. Women, who provide an illusion of challenge – and hence victory – to men.

So, let’s take your answer to my question from the pocket of your memory. As men feel the body of Modigliani’s nude, they fall for her, and begin desiring her. It is not her personality that she uses to attract men, it is her body.

So, if you answered NO to my first question and really liked this picture, you are not a real feminist at heart. A hard-core feminist, be it a man or a woman, should feel resentment, when looking at his painting.

The other nude I showcased in my previous post was this one:

We will talk it over it in my next post. Two nudes in one go is a mission possible but tiresome both in terms of production and consumption – if you made it this far you must feel more than a bit exhausted.

Stay tuned – the story is to be continued soon. In the meantime, but you may begin wondering why this nude has one eye fixated on the viewer.


  1. “…a Spanish friend Pablo who was footfetishing for the whole artistic community in Paris” – do tell more! Your posts are extremely interesting and… well. unusual! Brilliant reading.

  2. As I read this post, I got tempted to read the previous ones . Haven’t read so much on Art without yawning. EVER! Modigliani seems like one twisted person!

    1. You know, this is the best praise for me – I so much hate reading boring books on art (though I do), that I decided to start doing it the way that won’t make me yawn. If you didn’t yawn along the way – I feel I’ve managed to do something worthwhile. Thank you!

  3. Very interesting how some small details can let the viewer see and understand more than could be seen from the first sight. At that this is just the most interesting. Amazing. Can’t wait for the next post and Nude2 )

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