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Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Giuntini: Parme Giuntini. I'm here with Robert Summers. We're looking at an impressionist painting, The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte. The Floor Scrapers is such a different depiction of manual labor then say Courbet's painting of the Stonebreakers. Dr. Summers: Courbet's Stonebreakers shows two men working outside, breaking stones in the heat and this is Courbet's homage to the working [tour]. On the other hand you have Caillebotte who is painting three men inside this gorgeous room already. Made more gorgeous by the lighting. What's interesting about this is that with Courbet's image of the Stonebreakers, the men are anonymous. With this you can see their face and they're also half nude. They're inside, you would expect the stonebreakers to be possibly half nude but they're not, they're fully dressed. As opposed to these men who are half nude and in this kind of kneeling position, scraping forward towards the artist. Simultaneously, eroticizing the male body through the lighting and the highlighting of the muscles on the arms and backs which match the curvy linear lines on the raw iron just outside the window. Also of the light that's illuminating, reflects the gold around the room. Aiming at this kind of sensual feeling about it. So he's centralizing the worker as opposed to what we could read Courbet is honoring or heroisizing the worker. Dr. Giuntini: But this does not become a model for a lot of subsequent male nudes. Do you think this was some kind of a troublesome image in some ways? Dr. Summers: During the 1800s, homosexuality was invented as an identity, before then it was just an act. Committed an act of sodomy and you could have been arrested. To the scientific community it became a verifiable identity category. Interestingly enough within the visual arts, the male nude roughly at the same time periods begins to disappear almost completely in replace of the female nude. I think that someone like Caillebotte who's been questioned by many as being same sex oriented would paint such images. He didn't have to worry about selling his images because he came from a wealthy family and so he could paint what he wanted to. Possibly desire for this working class male body. Dr. Giuntini: I think there are definitely class issues at play here because Caillebotte has painted these three men from a slightly superior position, he's looking down on them, and they are so eroticized. Dr. Summers: During this time period there was this self fashioning of the self by many men with money or who pretended they have money. Such as Oscar Wilde or Marcel Proust story, the artist that we're talking about here. Many people who enacted this kind of lifestyle that many would call decadent even in France during that time. Wearing expensive suits, etcetera and the [finer] and the dandier kind of examples of this figure. What's interesting is that they were drawn to the working class male body, not the aristocratic body but the body of the working poor but that plays out here I think visually. Where you have Caillebotte painting these men in this scene of labor that glorify the body of the male. Dr. Giuntini: How come it didn't become a model from [identity]? Dr. Summers: I don't think it was a model for the modern European world which was and remains to be heterosexually dominated because any reference to the male as erotic is always already troublesome at best. (piano playing)