Olympia - Édouard Manet
more info / frames / high res
A nice quick analysis of the painting in the gif and the 7 minute video linked, but sadly the discussion of Olympia’s maid is pretty much limited to noting the contrast between light and dark spaces. Olympia’s black maid is significant in the composition and she was certainly part of the public disgust when the painting was shown. I even learned about the painting last year in class, we called it ‘Olympia’s Maid’ not ‘Olympia’, which certainly changes the subject of the painting, though many other places seem to call the painting ‘Olympia’.
ANYWAY. The race of the maid IS significant - Manet made the choice to paint her as black, when he could easily have made her white. Manet plays on people’s expectations and turns them around in this painting - as the gif notes, Olympia is looking directly at the viewer, and not coyly away, and the broad brush strokes call attention to the fact this this IS a painting we’re looking at, not reality. Many in the 1860s believed black women were hyper sexual, the dangerous opposite of virginal white women. As a fully clothed and non-sexualized maid, she denies the viewer’s expectations by standing in such a stark contrast to Olympia (pretty obvious here - light/dark, unclothed/clothed). At the same time, stereotypes and her important placement in the image (she vertically divides half the painting and takes up a lot of space, in contrast to the woman in the background of ‘Venus of Urbino’) led many to speculate that there were also some shady lesbian themes goin’ on in the painting.
The very fact that Olympia’s maid takes up so much space in the painting and doesn’t fade into the background was contraversial. Though orientalist paintings that came in the next 20-30 years contrasted black and white female bodies, the black women in those paintings were depicted in much more clearly subservient positions by bathing or dressing the white women who were meant to be looked upon as the subjects. While Olympia is still the subject in this painting, the addition of a black woman to an already offensive painting really pushed things over the edge for many art viewers.