Disease and Beautiful Women in Art

This paper compares three writers and their definitions of “decadence” in art. It talks about Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, the Mona Lisa and how some view them as sick and diseased.

This paper was written for a class about decadence in art and discusses Richard Gilman (author of Decadence: The Strange Life of an Epithet), Arthur Symon (author of The Decadent Movement in Literature) and Walter Pater (author of The Renaissance). These three authors have differing views on women in artwork including pictures of the Madonna and Christ child, the Mona Lisa and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
“The most important word used to describe Pater’s The Renaissance is “diseased”. Symons and Gilman refer repeatedly to the word in describing decadence. “Diseased” is not only the condition of an ill person but also can be the spiritual condition of the mind of a person who sees death and disease in a piece of artwork that most others see as beautiful. Society might construe this deviation from the normal as unhealthy, because, on the whole, society regards anything different from itself as abnormal and thus diseased and in need of being “cured.”