Diego Velazquez: Venus at her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus), 1650. National Gallery, London
Peter Paul Rubens: Venus at her Toilet (1608) Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Paseo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
"The Venus Effect"
The Venus effect is a phenomenon in the psychology of perception, named after various paintings of Venus gazing into a mirror, such as Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, Titian’s Venus with a Mirror, and Veronese’s Venus with a mirror. Viewers of such paintings assume that Venus is admiring her own reflection in the mirror; however, since the viewer sees her face in the mirror, Venus is actually looking at the reflection of the painter.
The researchers say that artists deliberately manipulated these images to create the impression we get when looking at ourselves in the mirror. If you can see your mirror image, it’s always looking straight back at you, just like the images in the paintings appear to be looking back at their beholders. If the painters had actually painted these images the way they saw them, the effect may have been less realistic.
This psychological effect is often used in the cinema, where an actor will be shown apparently looking at himself or herself in the mirror. What viewers see is different from what the actor sees, because the camera is not right behind the actor, but the position of the actor is often chosen so that his or her image is nicely framed in the mirror for the camera.
The interpretation of the image, changes with the realization of the physics in the painting. Typically, the female nude is observed and objectified by the viewer, as seen in Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus . However, in these Venus paintings, the viewer is being observed by the nude. I believe that the (unfortunately named) “Venus Effect” opens interpretation into the “gender roles” of artist, subject, and observer.
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