Sculpture Journal

Decent exposure: bosoms, smiles and maternal delight in pre-Revolutionary French busts

Sculpture Journal (2012), 21, (1), 43–56.

Abstract

During the second half of the eighteenth century the smile became a prominent motif in French portraiture. This article places this motif, as well as another prevailing motif - the semi-nude breast - in a specific historical context, arguing that it constitutes a new and unique artistic formula, related to a larger intellectual and ideological shift which occurred in the second half of the eighteenth century. This study posits that the ideal of the pursuit of happiness, maternal delight and female physical pleasure were epitomized in the busts discussed here, through this unique artistic formula. Moreover, considering sculpted portraiture's widespread distribution and display in eighteenth-century Paris, the new reading of the works proposed here calls attention to this genre's important and active role as a cultural device used to articulate and disseminate an emerging ideal of femininity, and thus to participate in shaping a new perception of female identity during the French Enlightenment.

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Author details

Milano, Ronit