The Naked Lips

There is something very peculiar about lips. The etymological root of the term comes from the Latin "labius" but there was a "labrum” before, a word associated with romance but with multiple connotations…

Back in Ancient Egypt, a culture impregnated with eroticism and a sophisticated idea of sexuality, where prostitutes used strong colors on their lips. A drawing from the year 1150 BC shows a scene in a brothel in Thebes, in which a half-naked young woman is carefully painting her lips with a brush, holding a small mirror (a sign of distinction) and accompanied by a naked client with a large erection.

The relationship between beautification of lips and eroticism dates back to three thousand years, and the use of some kind of coloring comes even earlier: there's evidence of its existence in Ancient Mesopotamia, where Queen Paubi was buried next to an abundant supply of makeup.
In Desmond Morris’s book "The naked woman", he asks: "What makes lips so visibly attractive?" The answer, in part, is its shape, texture and color; attributes that have been highlighted by artists of all disciplines.

Countless representations evidence the power of the lips. In the work of Baroque painter Johannes Vermeer van Delft, "Meisje met de parel" (Girl with a pearl earring), the moist and half-open lips of the model played a vital role in the composition, providing an atmosphere of sensuality and mystery. She looks attractive, fine and delicate, basically because her lips are painted pink, a color historically associated with the feminine and loving. The work was restored in 1994 and among the discoveries, a touch of light could be observed on the left side of the mouth, a minuscule white point on a pink brushstroke. Those details stand out even more in the poster of the homonymous film of 2003, directed by Peter Webber, in which Scarlet Johansson, the actress of thick and voluminous lips, can be seen in an almost identical posture to the one of Vermeer's model.

When an artist represents his model with one or another lip tone, he is revealing data of his personality. The reds, unlike the rosy tones, assume a woman of character, who is not ashamed to expose herself nor submit to the consideration of others, and makes use of her sensuality and power right in front of the universe of masculine desire.

Such were the elegant and sophisticated models painted by the polish artist Tamara de Lempicka in the 30’s, posing uninhibited and with striking red lips. A style later honored by Madonna in her video "Vogue" (directed by filmmaker David Fincher in 1990). Both, true icons of the modern woman. So are the bright red lips of the young Sue Lyon in the poster of Stanley Kubrick's classic film "Lolita" (1962), savoring a lollipop in a clearly provocative and vibrant attitude. It is because they shelter one of the many mysteries of feminine beauty that lips will always be an infinite source of inspiration for artists and icons of popular culture of all time.

Eva Chateau


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