The Venus of Willendorf is a 4.3-inch high statuette of a female figure estimated to have been made between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE. With a bountiful breasts and a large stomach, the figure is meant to show fertility. Her head is covered by a headdress or traditional hair style.
The ancestry of the female nude is distinct from the male, an fantastic article from the Met said. Where the latter originates in the perfect human athlete, the former embodies the divinity of procreation. Naked female figures are shown in very early prehistoric art, and in historical times, similar images represent such fertility deities as the Near Eastern Ishtar. The Greek goddess Aphrodite belongs to this family, and she too was imagined as life-giving, proud, and seductive. For many centuries, the Greeks preferred to see her clothed, unlike her Near Eastern counterparts, but in the mid-fourth century B.C., the sculptor Praxiteles made a naked Aphrodite, called the Knidian, which established a new tradition for the female nude. Lacking the bulbous and exaggerated forms of Near Eastern fertility figures, the Knidian Aphrodite, like Greek male athletic statues, had idealized proportions based on mathematical ratios. In addition, her pose, with head turned to the side and one hand covering the body, seemed to present the goddess surprised in her bath and thus fleshed the nude with narrative and erotic possibilities. The position of the goddess’ hands may be meant to show modesty or desire to shield the viewer from too full a view of her godhead. Although the Knidian statue is not preserved, its impact survives in the numerous replicas and variants of it commissioned in the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Such images of Venus, the Latin name of Aphrodite, adorned houses, bath buildings, and tombs as well as temples and outdoor sanctuaries.
The Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, dated 1434 by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck, It is considered one of the more original and complex paintings in Western art because of the iconography. One of the icons is the way she is dressed. She is not actually pregnant, but the clothing of the time and art was made to make women appear more fertile and robust.
The Birth of Venus is a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli. Botticelli was commissioned to paint the work by the Medici family of Florence. Venus is characterized by her slim figure and perfect “s-curve” stature which showed correct muscle contrapposto. In contrast, the women next to her was robust and possibly pregnant-looking.
Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a prolific artist. His commissioned works were mostly religious subjects, “history” paintings, which included mythological subjects, and hunt scenes. But unlike what the Greek and Roman athletic depictions might be, Rubens painted The Three Graces, 1635, in his larger than life style. This is where the term “rubenesque” figures comes from.
An Etsy user is selling a full length cabinet photograph portrait of a Victorian era woman standing rather incongruously next to a fake boulder with a woodland background. The lady is wearing a typical dark dress ensemble from the 1880’s: corseted jacket with brooch at the throat, pleated underskirt and probably a modified bustle. The corset is only a hint at what the expectations of the female body were at the time.
Dropped waists and baggy clothing were meant to hang on the 1920s flapper like clothing on a hanger.
A stark contrast from the 1920s, a more voluptuous figure emerged. But their waists were still meant to me smaller. In some models, waist training was used to synch the waist to unnatural levels. The hips and the bust still remained full.
A resurgence of the 1920s was made when model Twiggy came on the scene. Since then, models have upheld the skinny expectation.
Like Twiggy, models like Kate Moss continue to posses the “heroin-chic” ideal. Although Moss is only 5’7, other industry models are much taller at the same weight. In essence, they are walking clothes hangers.
Companies like H&M, who have recently recruited Beyonce as a model, are starting to make larger clothing and even larger mannequins. But despite the plus size revolution, the industry standard hasn’t changed.