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Stuck, The Sin

Franz von Stuck, The Sin, 1893 (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(upbeat piano music) Female voiceover: We're in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich and we're looking at a painter who lived in Munich and worked in Munich, Franz von Stuck and this is his painting, The Sin. Male Voiceover: Franz Stuck is probably best known as a simplest artist, this late 19th century movement that was interested in the interior self. Female voiceover: A common theme among those painters was the femme fatale, the dangerous woman and that's exactly what Stuck has painted here. He's given us the embodiment, the personification of sin, at the same time as a figure of Eve. Male voiceover: In a very literal way. You have this nude famel figure who is wrapped by this serpant that twines around her body and seems to be looking directly at us, almost hissing, as if it might strike at any moment. In fact, the very act of looking at her seems to endanger us. Look at the way that serpent looks at us from just above her breasts, full face. Then, the painter implies that the snakes body twirls around her neck. It's massive body rides down her left side, then twirls around the bottom of her belly. It is in direct contact with her flesh. It's almost lost in the darkness. Female voiceover: If you think about more typical representations of Eve, it's the serpent that tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden. It's the serpent that is the embodiment of evil and Eve who is weak and gives in to that temptation. Here, that's not the case. She is evil. Male voiceover: He's made her as sensuous as possible, so that we are, as viewers, entrapped. What's so interesting about this painting, is that he is very conscious of the role of the viewer and he is engaging the viewer as somebody who is directly involved in the unfolding of the narrative. Female voiceover: Remember this is time of Frued. This is the late 19th century, the early 20th century. This is not an investigation of sin in the Christian sense, but an investigation of sin and temptation as attributes of the human psyche. Male voiceover: Look how the artist has framed this canvas though. We have this completely overwrought gold frame with these two large door pillars, with beautiful fluting and an inscription that has the title in it. All very classicizing, making sin itself, as subject, somehow eternal. Here we have the end of the 19th century, with Christianity no longer a primary social driver. A moment ago you talked about Freud. Freud is so interesting at this historical moment, because the church has lost it's suprimacy and science is now moving onto the floor to deal with the issues that religion had once dealt with. Here, we're seeing a painting where religion has stripped out of it, but we're still left with the moral problem of sin, of corruption. How do we now, in the contemporary world, deal with this? (upbeat piano music)