Edouard Manet painted “Olympia” in 1863. Inspired by Titian’s “Venus of Urbino”, it depicts a high class prostitute awaiting her next client. Her identity is given away by details in the painting including the orchid in her hair, the bracelet she wears, her pearl earrings and the exotic oriental shawl on which she lies, all symbols of wealth and sensuality. The black ribbon around her neck, in glaring contrast with her pale flesh, and her cast-off slipper underline the voluptuous atmosphere. The pose of the woman brings another earlier work to mind, “La Maja desnuda” by Goya.
“Olympia” caused an uproar when it was first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1865. It was not as much the nudity as her confrontational gaze as well as the details identifying her as a high end prostitute that shocked audiences. Where Titian’s Venus gentle covered her sex, “Olympia” covers her to show her dominance. The dog in Titian’s painting has also been replaced by a black cat, a symbol of prostitution.
“Olympia” is today in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, France.