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Painting pain of women

Of Leda and Lust

Some of the most famous paintings that hang in galleries around the world deal with the violation of women.


In Rome, the very institution of marriage itself was found in a notable mythical rape. Back at the beginning of Roman time, Romulus' new community had everything it needed, except the wherewithal to ensure its survival: that is, women. So they invited their neighbours, the Sabines, to a festival and at a given signal - when everyone probably had had rather too much to drink - carried off the young women. This was The Rape of the Sabines, immortalised in hundreds of Renaissance paintings like that of Nicolas Poussin who painted it twice. One of his works hangs in the Louvre and the other in the New York Metropolitan Museum. Pablo Picasso also chose this theme to make a statement on the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s and denounce war.


Italian Renaissance artist Titian was the first to paint this mythological theme on the abduction of princess Europa by Jupiter in the 1500s. The brushwork and colour palette is said to effectively evoke both passion and monstrosity. Reubens and other artists later copied this style and theme.


This story of the Greek god Zeus taking the form of a swan to rape Leda has inspired painting and poetry (W B Yeats). Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are said to have done paintings that have been lost. Paul Cezanne painted a version of the story in the late 1800s in which the swan merely seems like a cranky pet and Leda the indulgent owner. American artist Cy Twombly did an abstract version in 1962, which is in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Edgar Degas' Interior, also known as The Rape, shows a tense confrontation between a man and a woman. Some critics have interpreted it as depicting the aftermath of a rape and suggested it was inspired by an Emile Zola story. The painting is housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte's Le Viol (The Rape) is a startling work in which breasts form the eyes of a woman's face, and a vagina her mouth. It is said to be a commentary on the fact that society binds a woman's destiny to her anatomy.


Progressive Indian artist M F Husain's response to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks was a painting titled Rape of India. He said that what had happened in Mumbai was as offensive and brutal as rape, and that the painting showed his outrage. "We're painters. We can express our anger only through our art, " he said.

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