Countess De Castiglione Analysis

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This paper will argue that the photographs of the Countess de Castiglione and Emile Zola’s, “The Kill” both present women that rely on their appearances to discern their identities. It will further demonstrate that because of this emphasis on appearances to assert reality, women depend on their body as a mode of expressing the more complex parts of their personalities.
To understand the immense attention paid to women’s appearance during 19th century France, it is crucial to consider the role of the spectacle in these women’s lives. There was a focus on the pleasure of gazing, but this ability to gaze was a privilege.
The freedom and pleasure of walking through the world, observing, is noted as an essential tool in creating art in Charles
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While the archetype of the bourgeoisie woman lies in superficial excess, only one medium portrays this. Zola’s text describes the extravagant event in not only a literal sense, but the tone and writing style also take on this quality. Zola writes “Echo’s costume was an allegory in itself: it suggested tall trees and lofty mountains, the resounding spots where the voices of the Earth and the Air reply to each other; it was rock in the white satin of the skirt, thicket in the leaves of the girdle, clear sky in the cloud of blue gauze of the bodice”. This is only one half of the sentence, it is clear that Zola chooses to write a superfluous amount of detail. The description is so elaborate that the reader is overwhelmed by the amount of content; the same way there was an overwhelming amount of content in Renee’s costume. The irony lies in the idea that the play itself is choosing costumes and glamour to present a deeper and more complex story. The play indicates that a superficial appearance is required to manifest deeper feelings, and serves as a vehicle for Renee to channel her deeper psyche. However, in the Countess’ photo, there is no excess. Her feet are lying bare in a non-descript bed, one that can be easily reminiscent of a coffin. There is no excess of lace and fabric; there is simply a …show more content…
This photo stands in comparison to Renee’s expression of vice through her body. In this photo, the Countess once again chooses a simple composition. She stands in the center dressed in white. The Countess chooses white to represent the nun, although they are typically dressed in black. This emphasis toward this color is further addressed in her title, “The White Nun”. The Countess chooses to specify which kind of nun, pointing to the significance of the color white. White is chosen to present purity. The background is a darker value than the center of the photo, where the Countess wears her dress. The white stands out exceptionally against the darker tones of the photograph, especially the countess’ hands, which lie in the center of her garb. The darker value in the background is more neutral, towards the center of the spectrum of values. The only dramatic values are in the Nun’s dress and the stark shadows surrounding her face. The white of her dress stands out through its central position as well as its contrast to the rest of the photo’s values. The dress covers the Countess completely. The Countess here chooses to hide her body, signifying that exposure of the body would denote sin. In opposition, Zola writes, Renee is ashamed of wearing white, she wishes that she wore black lace. Her father specifically points to the white of her dress and declares it

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