Date of Award

Fall 12-15-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Visual Arts


College of Humanities and Fine Arts

First Advisor

Elizabeth Howie


The female nude has been represented in art for millennia. From the Paleolithic Woman of Willendorf fertility symbol (22,000 to 24,000 BCE, Fig. 1), to Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538 Fig. 2), women have frequently been depicted as sexualized creatures. Standard ideal body types have been established for each era through the thousands of pieces of art picturing nude women. Archaic women were expected to have large breasts and hips in order to show their fertility. Medieval representations of Mary Magdalene were usually nude and provocative. Women were supposed to see these images of Mary Magdalene and remember to keep their chastity. Women in the Renaissance were thought to be beautiful if they were fleshy, soft, and curvy, like Titian's Venus of Urbino. Art during all of these time periods emphasized the ideal body types to which women were meant to aspire. All of these representations were created by men. Female artists were not able to have successful artistic careers until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although there had been females who painted, they were not recognized by the general population as artists. As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth century, many changes occurred in the art world. Degas and Manet had been rebelling against the French Academy for decades, photography was considered art at this time, and women started having the opportunity to become artists. An artist who challenged artistic stereotypes for women was Suzanne Valadon. She was not only a female artist, a rarity at the time, but she also depicted women that were highly unidealized and unattractive according to society's standards. Valadon was the first female artist to truly raise issues regarding the standard representations of ideal women in art. Her images disrupt the conventions that had been used for hundreds of years. She was the first woman to truly defy the norm and change how women were viewed in art. The way Valadon changed the masculine art world will be shown through the review of academic literature on the idealized and unidealized female body, as well as with a comparison to an Academic artist working at the same time, William Bouguereau.