Pictures of women in sensual poses or depicted completely naked are quite ordinary in today’s visual culture. This has not always been the case. The female body was first established in art as a popular and versatile subject only around 1500. Woman was often depicted as a seductive Venus, a classical virtuous heroine or the admonishing Vanitas, but also as a cunning ruler over man, as a sly prostitute or a diabolic witch. The motifs appear predominately in the context of moral discourses and reflect common values and ideals at the time, which were often influenced by negative clichés. Although woman was regarded as a personification of the sensual and beautiful, these qualities were regularly accompanied by an admonishment about latent sinfulness and transitoriness. There was also a fear that a woman might exercise power over a man due to her feminine charms. The subject is thus quite rich, both culturally and historically, and nonetheless it remains current.
This catalogue presents some 100 drawings, prints and paintings, of which a large portion come from the outstanding holdings of the Kunstmuseum Basel, completed by loans from renowned collections both in Switzerland and abroad.