Canonical beauty: Prehistory

11.07.2017 — by Victoria Ventonni


Trying to look like someone else or desire to empathize certain aspects of the person’s own body in order to be beautiful is not a modern trend. In fact, it is a very old partly psychological phenomenon. Beauty canons are often regarded as a direct consequence of the K-strategy* working. However, I would like to argue against this point of view, which has a lot of oversimplification in it.

Indeed, K-strategy has a lot to do with definition of beauty, subconsciously preventing humanity from both the overpopulation and dying out. Other factors of main importance are habitat and the leader, his taste in women if this leader is a man. Moreover, a bright personality should be taken into account, too, as the desire to be like someone mentally and sociologically reflects on the first place in the change of the style and appearance.

Beauty standards are constantly changing, differing in various societies even in a modern globalized world. We shall start with an attempt to define canonical beauty in prehistory era.

Most of art objects left from this time represent animals. In prehistorical society the study of the anatomical structure of an animal was of vital importance as the good knowledge of it could not only save life of the hunter, but also bring some food to home. The inclusion of the image of a human is quite rare, with the exception of the female imagery. All of such females are called “Venuses”.


Vénus de Laussel – example of female in the relief


Venus von Willendorf – example of female in sculpture


Venus of Dolní Věstonice – example of female in ceramics

The faces of all of them do not matter, the artist’s attention is focused on their bodies, highlighting their fertility through empathizing primary and secondary sexual characteristics. The woman was, first of all, a mother, who should have made good and healthy numerous progeny and breed them until the age of maturing. These functions were accentuated by the artist and taken into account when choosing a partner by men. Moreover, these images probably had the sacral meaning, promising praising people abundant harvest and comfortable existence with enough food and less death.

Nevertheless, even at these hard for survival of the humankind times beauty canons were not the same around the globe. In Siberia, where the climate is much harsher than in Europe, where the most of curvy Venuses were found, were discovered totally different statuettes.


Venus of Buret

Very tall and thin, probably wearing fur, without breasts, but with outlined facial features – that’s how typical (or perfect) woman looked like for our ancestors who lived there. According to the K-strategy, the imagery should have been quite the opposite as survival in northern territories was very hard and men probably needed the emphasized fertile women to make offspring and live long enough to raise it.

Even then the beauty canons varied depending on public foundations and presumably many other things about which we have no idea.



*To discover more about K-strategy search r/K selection theory or  click here


The other side of Romanticism

08.06.2017 — by Victoria Ventonni


We are used to think that French Romanticism is mostly based on the appraisal of antique motives and aesthetics. It is true, but not the whole of it, by the way. Another great source of inspiration were oriental ideas and elements, dreaming about them. This essay focuses on oriental motives in oeuvre of two very well-known romanticism painters: Ingres and Delacroix.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres is considered by some amount of art historians to be a neoclassicist. However, I would argue with that. First of all, classical motives were not his only source of inspiration, they were more like a basis of his style, partly subconscious, derived from years of studying in academic way. Secondly, the ease with which he alters the proportions of human body, the variety of epochs and cultures which he transforms in his paintings point out some significant distance between him, Academy and neoclassicism. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres created paintings based on mythology for Academy, portraits in order to earn money and a great deal of the art left was inspired by oriental motives, includes them (at least, in the beginning). The interesting fact is that the painter himself had never been to Middle or Far East, all he had were stories about travelling there (documentary or fictional), little objects that were brought from there and, of course, a great deal of his own imagination.

The illustrative example for that may be The Grande Odalisque created by Ingres in 1814. The painter creates quite typical late-Renaissance composition and figure, enriching them by insertion of little oriental details. The woman herself has a European kind of beauty changed by elongation of her back and neck, creating the appealing sense of eastern mystery. The viewer feels that something is wrong but he cannot stop admiring this woman, her intriguing beauty, trying to solve the mystery.

The latter example, which I would like to present here, is Odalisque with slave, finished in 1842. Clearly, the Ingres’s connoisseurship of eastern cultures has broadened, which results in the amount of objects included. Nevertheless, the basis remains the same: the figure and posture of odalisque is quite similar with women on Venetian Late Renaissance paintings. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres strives to learn more about the culture that fascinates him. He creates a very interesting mix of carefully copied eastern details, professional academic training and his own imagination.


Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix is often opposed to Ingres (even in Wikipedia), but they have a lot of common. Both of them were highly influenced by both Venetian Late Renaissance paintings and oriental motives. They both changed classical canons of interpretation, each one on his own way. The greatest difference between them within the topic of this essay is that Delacroix actually did visit Eastern countries and had the opportunity to base the works on the memories and experience of his own. His early oriental works, such as Woman with a parrot (1827), resemble those of Ingres, lacking his intrigue and sensuality. The eroticism in early Delacroix works is more open and visible. For the painter the oriental details are more like an external frame of naked woman and her beauty.

Women of Algiers painted in 1834 were influenced by the personal experience the painter had in eastern countries. Of course, there was no possibility for him to see the harem inside, but the painter observed the type oriental beauty, depicting it in women. He also inserted more details, which show his connoisseurship of eastern world, its habits, culture and style.

As we can see, oriental motives are an important part of the Romanticism paintings. The East lured dreamers by its mystery, another culture, style of life and mind, producing a great deal of art objects inspired by it.


The very first fashion blogger

25.04.2017 — by Victoria Ventonni


Nowadays it is quite popular to post fashion looks on Instagram, showing not only the clothes, but also, more important, the unique (hopefully) way to combine them, expressing your true self. Fashion bloggers have mastered this skill of mixing different brands, textures, which resulted in them creating the style of their own, developing the fashion industry and creating trends. However, shall we consider this as a modern thing?

Doubtfully. I am sure that history can teach us a great and quite expansive lesson if we let it to do so. Moreover, it never fails to repeat itself. Let me present the very first fashion blogger, Matthäus Schwarz, born in 1497. As there was obviously no Instagram back then, he created a book, which consisted of his looks painted in watercolors.

During this time, fashion was strictly regulated. The social rank specified the textiles and the styles which person was allowed to wear. Nevertheless, what was left to the ordinary burghers, who wanted to look stylish and modern as a noble?

Matthäus Schwarz was one of them and he found his way. For example, he wore fancy sleeves if a fancy hose was forbidden. More importantly, he was obsessed with fashion, spending almost all his income on clothes, creating wonderful looks. Let me show you some of them.
For example, here he is portrayed with his new employer. It is easy to distinguish them through their manner of dressing. Matthäus Schwarz, 19 years old on this watercolor, having obviously lower social rank than his employer, looks better and more fashionable than him. He looks almost if he were an aristocrat. However, only almost: he was careful not to break strict dressing law. It is also important how he presents himself. It is clear that he is very proud of his style, and clothes he is wearing make him feel comfortable, allowing him to be himself. I think, it is one of the main things that fashion can do: to reveal your true self, make you feel confident. It is not the clothes that make you look great and fashionable, it is the feeling you get from wearing them.
Now, a little gallery of looks from the book. I hope, it will amuse you, how little has changed through centuries.




If interested, you can download the book here:

Trachtenbuch des Matthaus Schwarz

Victoria Ventonni

Historian of Art&Fashion


Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.