The Origin of the World and the Female Gaze

It was Shakespeare who coined the phrase, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. The premise rests on the notion that the rose’s inherent beauty and olfactory prowess would remain unchanged no matter what one called it. Now imagine if the phrase were to read, “A vagina by any other name….”. The long list of fanciful catchwords for female genitalia is noticeably devoid of names that inspire the respect and awe that a woman’s external reproductive organs deserve. Pussy, snatch, garage, camel toe, and muff are just a few of the less disparaging ones.

Nonetheless, one descriptive moniker exists that elevates this part of a woman’s anatomy to the lofty domain normally occupied by Creation, Mother Nature, and the Divine, all rolled into one. L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) is the title bestowed upon Gustave Courbet‘s iconic 19thcentury painting of a woman’s vagina on permanent exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. This unapologetic, cropped perspective of a model’s splayed thighs and bounteous pubic bush is a rude awakening for museum visitors lulled into a visual stupor by the museum’s 19th and 20th century masterpieces. However, the immediate carnal shock of Courbet’s painting is offset by its title, The Origin of the World. The image morphs before our very eyes from lewd hyperbole to an overdue homage to women for their unique role in the miracle of birth and creation.

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