Helene Fourment in a Fur Coat, Peter Paul Rubens
What did Paul Rubens have in mind when he thought of painting Helene such? Surely not the pleasure of a generic observer who might have been more pleased with a traditional rendering of the naked female body; in other words, the standard nude. Instead, Rubens has given this painting such a feeling of intimacy that one feels like an intruder to even look at Helene who is directing a meaningful glance elsewhere.
In writing about the difference between painting nakedness and nudity, John Berger opens a new way of looking at the nude in painting. Is she naked? Or is it another nude? Who is it intended for?
Helene Fourment in a Fur Coat is an 'exceptional painted image of nakedness', says Berger in Ways of Seeing.
Her body confronts us, not as an immediate sight, but as experience - the painter's experience. Why? There are superficial anecdotal reasons: her dishevelled hair, the expression of her eyes directed towards him, the tenderness with which the exaggerated susceptibility of her skin has been painted. But the profound reason is a formal one. Her appearance has been literally re-cast by the painter's subjectivity. Beneath the fur coat she holds across herself, the upper part of her body and her legs can never meet. There is a displacement sideways of about nine inches: her thighs, in order to join on to her hips, are at least nine inches too far to the left.
Rubens probably did not plan this: the spectator may not consciously notice it. In itself it is unimportant. What matters is what it permits. It permits the body to become impossibly dynamic.
The structure of the naked body looks like a nod to Venus de'Medici says Wikipedia.