Most of the pictures of women at the Gallery were painted by men – only eight female artists are represented, compared with about 400 male artists. Many of the paintings of women were commissioned by men, for men to look at. Do these factors affect the appearance of the paintings?
Certain types of women appear again and again in the art of the past. Perhaps the woman most frequently portrayed in the paintings of the National Gallery is the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Over about five centuries, in Western Europe, the Catholic Church commissioned huge numbers of religious paintings for churches, and many more were made for people to hang in their homes.
Many paintings have also been made of goddesses from classical antiquity. Paintings of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, such as Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, may often have been an excuse for a patron to own a picture of a beautiful naked woman (gods and goddesses are often shown naked to distinguish them from humans).