The Varying Outfits of Goddesses in Art

How Different Artists Depict Goddesses and Use Clothes To Enforce Their Ideas of Empowerment

Humans have been invested in religion, fables, literature, and fairytales for centuries as ways to explain the world that we live in. We also create these images of a fantasy where we envision ourselves in a better or more appealing world, thus creating the romanticism and impressionism that rely on beauty. A grand majority of art has religious connotations whether it is Christian, Greek, Islamic, or Buddhism. In my comparison I will be examining three depictions of Goddesses in art from different time periods, starting in 1655 with Johannes Vermeer’s “Diana and Her Companions” that portray the Roman goddess also known as Artemis. Next, from 1891, is John William Waterhouse’s famous “Circe Offering The Cup to Ulysses” straight from the acclaimed Greek epic poem; The Odyssey. Before Raja Ravi Varma passed away in 1906 he created this artwork depicting Samhara Kali using Chromolithography which I will be analyzing last. I will be comparing the depictions of goddesses and their impact on society by talking about their clothing, sexualization, symbols, cultural significance, and impact.

All of the portraits of the goddesses feature their body, however only one of them wears more modest clothes. Diana from “Diana and Her Companions” by Johannes Vermeer wears a typical dress found in Ancient Rome, with bright colors and multiple layers that cover the shoulders, legs, and sometimes arms. Even though Diana’s top is unbuttoned, it is not emphasized. Goddesses are rarely depicted modestly, in order to appeal to the male fantasy, but Vermeer keeps her in common clothes that cover nearly her entire body. This makes her seem more like a human, humbling her powers and fierce personality.

On the other hand, if a goddess is revealing her skin, that does not always mean she is being portrayed this way for male attention. Due to the gruesome picture and her insane expression, there is no sense of sensuality in Kali. Instead, the viewer's mind is almost repelled by her blue skin. Raja Ravi Varma portrays Samhara Kali in a way that simply shows strength and power, her hands holding a severed head while another one holds up a sword victoriously. Her nudity seems more primitive and evocative instead of alluring.

The goddess that is intentionally revealing is Circe in “Circe Offering the Cup To Ulysses” by John William Waterhouse. Her thin and slightly transparent blue dress accentuates her youthful and thin body. This transparency in the dress is a tactic to entice men and drink her wine. The idea of a transparent dress makes it seem like she has nothing to hide, however her transparency is misleading since she deceives men to transform them into animals. Waterhouse strategically made Circe display more nudity because her character is meant to entice and entrap her victims, showing that there is danger under the surface, not simply making her nude for the pleasure of the audience.

Even though all of these goddesses are powerful, not all are represented as such. The functions in their depictions are all different. Vermeer intended to provide a different perspective of a tale that many people know, in a calm and private mood as he shows Diana in a humble and human tone. Waterhouse illustrates deception through beauty and magic as Circe urges Ulysses to drink the poisoned wine. Raja Ravi Varma demonstrates power, vengeance, death, and the bloodlust of nature as Samhara Kali’s victorious smile contrasts the grim scene around her.

Artists intentionally tell a story through color, tone, balance, and much more. I have been influenced to make art pieces that depict more women in an ethereal tone and with power. Even though these representations of women show them in an empowering and dimensional way, there are many depictions of women that ride under the guise of empowerment but are simply created by men, for men. These traditional, and sometimes untraditional, renderings of the goddesses gave a good sense of range and variety that the viewer does not feel like they have already seen this painting before, giving everyone a fresher mind.

I am a writer and an artist who loves to spend my time reading and swimming. I love art history and I want to expose it more so the world can love it too.

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