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What lies beneath - L'Odalisque Brune by Francois Boucher

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L'Odalisque Brune by Francois Boucher

L'Odalisque Brune by Francois Boucher

L'Odalisque Brune by Francois Boucher

"Does my bum look big in this?" Big isn't the word, lady. It's massive. This particular woman clearly prefers her bed to the gym. The full-figured, fleshy woman was once all the rage and not only in the Eighteenth Century, like this shy soul. Would Marilyn Monroe fit today's ideal look? Creatures on the catwalk now look as if they've never eaten anything.

Weight, diet, exercise have never caused so much commotion. Men's magazines promise, again and again and again, the perfect abs, that sexy six-pack, the washboard look.

Women are cajoled, enticed, urged, humiliated into becoming stick-thin. Teenagers, given the choice, spend most of the day "sofalising". We are supposedly in crisis. Obesity looms. It's waddling towards us.

Bombarded and seduced from all sides, the smell of supermarket croissants, the banked stack of bars and sweets when you pay for a newspaper, the sugary drinks all add up to junk food. And ads tell us that chocolate equals happiness. We all know that sugar is the new enemy.

Shakespeare's Caesar says "Let me have men about me that are fat" but it's the "lean and hungry look" that gets people places. Think thin. Think Obama, Cameron, Enda Kenny. Or Putin who likes to take his shirt off.

Fatties do not rule the world. If Hillary Clinton runs for President she'll be scrutinised from dyed hair to thigh. Plump just doesn't impress.

Monsieur Boucher, chief painter to Louis XV, was also much sought after as a decorator. He created many lavish, ornate interiors and it was claimed that he thought nature "too green and badly lit". He preferred rococo, that florid, graceful, ornate style. All curves and folds and draperies, it's a style where more is more.

An odalisque is a mistress, a female slave and this dark-haired [brune] odalisque is one of several portraits by Boucher who, in painting them, was accused of "prostituting his own wife".

In this instance the model doesn't look too much put upon. The fascinator and pearl earrings suggest she's ready for anything.

Anything but the healthy option. Get up, get going. Move that ass.

Fran├žois Boucher [1703-1770]

Sunday Independent