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Video transcript

since the Renaissance think of Michelangelo's David the body had been sacrosanct the human body had been accorded the most attention the most respect in the history of art that's right the body was a primary vehicle for artists to convey ideas and emotion but at the very beginning of the 20th century in the last years of Paul Cezanne slive he begins to deconstruct the body we're looking at pulses and large bathers in the Philadelphia Museum of Art the subject of bathers is one that has a long history think of paintings of Diana and Actaeon by artists like Titian and Rubens for example artists like de gah were grappling with how to paint the nude in a modern environment and I think Suzanne is also picking up that challenge how do you paint the modern nude when we think about Cezanne we think about an artist who began as an impressionist whose emphasis might have been on the modern world even though he's worked on the series of bathers for years the figures are remarkably unfinished where we see sized canvas underneath in so many places where faces and forms of the body are barely sketched in are barely begun the figures are being manipulated and moved and shifted in order to fit into some overall composition that he has in mind Cezanne seems to be reaching for a kind of classicism you had mentioned Titian and this painting seems to be reaching back to those grand traditions right if we look at the Titian of Diana and acti on that season I probably just saw a print of it does seem as though Cezanne is thinking back to that Titian to architectural forms to the pyramid of the Renaissance to the way that Titian opened up the central space of that composition to bring our eye into a deep recession of a landscape Titian the great late Renaissance Venetian is known for his glazing for his ability to create cute Escudo to create the turn of the body flesh that has a kind of translucency and says ons figures seem as if they're made out of plaster they almost seem as if they're fresco they are so flat and so unfinished and if we think about Titian we think about the sensuality of the body especially the female body and here we have female figures who are anything but sensual they're architectonic they seem frozen in their poses their bodies are elongated in some cases now formed in some cases we seem to see multiple sides of the body at once this is anything but a luscious sensual Venetian image and Cezanne is also refusing the mythic context in the foreground we might be in a class size Arcadian landscape but on the far shore we can see the back of a horse and a man walking away from us towards a church and we realize that this is modern France and so there's this very peculiar pictorial construction that's offering us in the foreground and this grand scale is classicizing Renaissance subject matter and then in the distance something that might be an ex one Provence and all painted where huge areas of the canvas are unfinished outlines of forms are unstable and repeated and seem to move and shift Cezanne seems to be modeling the forms of the bodies with warm and cool colors instead of using traditional chiaroscuro he's building on Impressionism doing something classical and in a way setting the stage for the abstraction that will emerge in the 20th century that's the real achievement of this painting taking classical forms and making them subservient to the abstraction of the campus Cezanne is not copying the Titian he may be inspired by it he may be referencing it he's not looking at nudes in his studio and being faithful to the shapes of their bodies this is not based on optical experience it's not based on the scene that's right this is opening form that allows for abstraction you can see why this kind of painting which was shown the year after Cezanne death in a retrospective in Paris would have been so important to Matisse and to Picasso and it was shown in 1907 the very year that Picasso completes the Demoiselles d'Avignon the first painting that begins to deconstruct space and burnout form in the early 20th century and is the foundation upon which cubism is built and so the possibility for paintings to be about the act of painting a very formal sentence as opposed to the representation of nature that had been so much a characteristic of the 19th century