In this post, neo-neocon discusses how the Vanity Fair photo is a descendant of the Manet painting just below, and of the earlier Giorgione painting further below:
So, here we have an interesting trajectory: from Giorgione's allegory in which the sexuality is a subtext, although still present; through Manet's shocking modernized grouping that refers back to those earlier nudes, but shorn of any pretense of classicism except as a facile reference point. Then, on to the modern photo that is sold on newsstands and overtly meant to titillate, and which has only a vague and very hidden reference to its predecessors. But to me, all three works stand in an unbroken line, and even the last refers all the way back to the first.
The paintings and the photo remind me of the dual sensibilities of woman. In the Manet, the robed woman in the meadow reminds of Milo Kundera's account of Karel's mother, and the pears and the tanks. Kundera is the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being(also credit neo-neocon for first pointing to this Kundera passage):
One night, for example, the tanks of a huge neighboring country came and occupied their country [a reference to the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia]. The shock was so great, so terrible, that for a long time no one could think about anything else. It was August, and the pears in their garden were nearly ripe. The week before, Mother had invited the local pharmacist to come and pick them. He never came, never even apologized. The fact that Mother refused to forgive him drove Karel and Marketa crazy. Everybody's thinking about tanks, and all you can think about is pears, they yelled. And when shortly afterwards they moved away, they took the memory of her pettiness with them.I intend to write about the pears and the tanks, someday. I wish I was more attracted to the "eternal" pears, but I am not. I suspect being less attracted to the pears is a form of denying reality, and of having a complaint against God. I suspect it's a rebellion against God's design. However, it is a perplexing question. Maybe men are hardwired to like the excitement of the tanks.
But are tanks really more important than pears? As time passed, Karel realized that the answer was not so obvious as he had once thought, and he began sympathizing secretly with Mother's perspective--a big pear in the foreground and somewhere off in the distance a tank, tiny as a ladybug, ready at any moment to take wing and disappear from sight. So Mother was right after all: tanks are mortal, pears eternal.
Update, July 2008:
I'm a different person, now, than when I wrote this in March, 2006. I am more interested in the pears than I used to be - although: world events still fascinate. I comprehend and understand world events better than I did even 5 years ago. Still: the pears are my life. I cannot control the tanks.