An advertisement for Equinox Fitness Club on Boston magazine made headlines due to its so-called provocative presentation of Catholic virtues; the ad shows attractive and partially exposed nuns, curiously sketching a nude male figure standing David like. The nuns are shamelessly checking out his body rather than studying this statuesque man, and it is easy to see why this ad was offensive to some. It is written Happily Ever on the left corner of the ad.
To me the most appealing part of this smart ad is the nun that looks through the window, holding her hands to the Art Nouveau bars, watching the nude as if he is an angel sent by God. She is clearly having a spiritual moment. Of course it was by watching the local news that I got to know this ad. But now I have a personal interest in it. I ask myself what does really tickle people to take offence from such presentations of body? Besides the obvious of course… Surely most people admire Michelangelo’s David rather than taking offense in it. So what is it this time? I came to think that what really disturbs people in such occasions is that the women are being an active witnesses of the male nudity in the picture. There is a great tradition that feeds this dislike of women’s presence in male environment. The example that comes to my mind right now is that for many years women were not allowed to study anatomy and work with models in art schools. Here is a painting by Mary Bashkirtseff called The Julien Studio dated 1881*. The Julien Studio is an interesting comparison for the Equinox ad: both its apparent compositional similarities to the ad in question and also its subject matter: women students drawing a young boy posing in the corner, looking at the viewer innocently.
* An alternative way of writing Mary Bashkirtseff is Marie Bashkirtseff. She was Russian and her name is written Мария Константиновна Башкирцева in Russian. Also for Julien Studio one can use Julian. My source for the spelling of the name of the artist and her painting was Great Women Masters of Art, a book by Jordi Vigue. The painting also was referred to as Studio.