Mark Twain on the Venus of Urbino in A Tramp Abroad  

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Venus of Urbino (1538, detail) by Titian. The frankness of Venus' expression is often noted; she makes direct eye contact with the viewer
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Venus of Urbino (1538, detail) by Titian. The frankness of Venus' expression is often noted; she makes direct eye contact with the viewer

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Mark Twain on the Venus of Urbino in A Tramp Abroad

"At the door of the Ufizzi, in Florence, one is confronted by statues of a man and a woman, noseless, battered, black with accumulated grime--they hardly suggest human beings--yet these ridiculous creatures have been thoughtfully and conscientiously fig-leaved by this fastidious generation. You enter, and proceed to that most-visited little gallery that exists in the world--the Tribune--and there, against the wall, without obstructing rag or leaf, you may look your fill upon the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses--Titian's Venus. It isn't that she is naked and stretched out on a bed--no, it is the attitude of one of her arms and hand. If I ventured to describe that attitude, there would be a fine howl--but there the Venus lies, for anybody to gloat over that wants to--and there she has a right to lie, for she is a work of art, and Art has its privileges. I saw young girls stealing furtive glances at her; I saw young men gaze long and absorbedly at her; I saw aged, infirm men hang upon her charms with a pathetic interest. How I should like to describe her--just to see what a holy indignation I could stir up in the world--just to hear the unreflecting average man deliver himself about my grossness and coarseness, and all that. The world says that no worded description of a moving spectacle is a hundredth part as moving as the same spectacle seen with one's own eyes--yet the world is willing to let its son and its daughter and itself look at Titian's beast, but won't stand a description of it in words. Which shows that the world is not as consistent as it might be.
There are pictures of nude women which suggest no impure thought--I am well aware of that. I am not railing at such. What I am trying to emphasize is the fact that Titian's Venus is very far from being one of that sort. Without any question it was painted for a bagnio and it was probably refused because it was a trifle too strong. In truth, it is too strong for any place but a public Art Gallery. Titian has two Venuses in the Tribune; persons who have seen them will easily remember which one I am referring to."




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