The Western Canon in the Gallery and Contemporary Debate

During the nineteenth century, the privileged status of representations of the female nude was a topic of serious debate and reached its climax in 1885, when Victorian society was still divided on what was considered obscene and art. The paintings that nineteenth century society felt were too sexual are now admired. This unheralded admiration afforded primarily to Titian’s representations of the female nude seen in the U.K. is due to Titian’s consistent popularity according to Susanna Avery-Quash. This chapter will investigate how collecting policies may be formulated based on the canon as well as the various commercial events and fundraising campaigns national galleries have implemented in the last ten years. Furthermore, an investigation of the contemporary recreations of Titian’s representations of the female nude will be considered. A discussion of the challenges to the canon by contemporary artists will aim to answer the following question: are art galleries still operating using nineteenth century ideas about sexuality?                                                                     Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 13.09.30

The National Gallery, London claims in their mission statement to, ‘promote

the understanding, knowledge and appreciation of Old Master paintings throughout the UK. It is our ambition to give these paintings a major role in modern cultural life.’One of the Research curators at the National Gallery, London, and Susanna Avery-Quash stated in an interview that Titian has been considered,

…one of the ‘greats’, whose reputation never really suffered a significant dip at any point of its ‘fortuna critica’, his work was always sought after by any institution which wished to regard itself as holding examples of the artists which were regarded as the best representatives of the canon of western European painting.

Avery-Quash’s comments, as well as those taken from the National Gallery website endorse the work of generations of historians who valued the creative genius of men over women and hierarchical status of media such as painting over sculpture and the decorative arts. This is reiterated by Griselda Pollock, who states ‘today, the canons are settled into well-known patterns because of the role of institutions such as museums…’ Galleries also tend to define their relevance by how well their permanent collection represents the canon.

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