Influence of Female Body Sexualisation in Renaissance Paintings on Modern Day Marketing Campaigns

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Sexualization of the female body


Research question:

 To what extent has the sexualization of the female body in renaissance paintings successfully inspired marketing campaigns with specific reference to Dolce & Gabbana?



The issue of sexualization of the female body has been a subject of controversial debates across the world, which is evidence of the imbalance of equality vs inequality of genders. However, this is not recent in art; the sexualization female body can be traced to the renaissance era where religion and the female body were the centres of paintings. (Nguyen, 2017) Furthermore, this can be seen in today’s advertising campaigns where companies are using the female body as the centre of their advertising campaigns to be able to sell their products further. Which could have an impact on its branding strategy, which is when; a company must aim to maintain a specific image of what they want their company to be viewed as in the marketplace.

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Global issue

As a young girl with access to media at anytime (magazines, social media), which is when I was able to see the sexualization of women, but I did not comprehend this. As I grew up I became aware of how much sexualization there was and the recent feminist movements, such as, the Me Too movement. The artworld is where women are generally sexualized the most. Renaissance massively influenced the aesthetic and philosophical ideas of Europe and could be regarded as one of the peaks of human creativity. Humans appreciation for the beautiful art world is profoundly affected by the many great artists of the Renaissance, like Titian, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Giuseppe Bartolomeo, Botticelli, and many others. (Fine Art Connoisseur, 2019) Since this art movement impacted the world then and now massively, I began thinking about how this could have affected the fashion industry.

Why is it world studies?

I have always been interested in where clothing brands come up with their ideas for their advertising campaigns, especially the ones which include sexual connotations. I was not sure whether the inspiration came from old paintings or if it came from nowhere. However, when I began lightly researching I found that many companies are inspired by past artists and art, which is when I found out Dolce & Gabbana, the Italian company base all of their advertising campaigns on old Italian art, with a sexual twist. I knew my visual art understanding had to be used in order to analyse the paintings and the advertising campaigns, but I knew that would not be enough to understand why the company was inspired by old art and what that did for their branding. In order to understand the company’s decision, I would have to use both my visual arts and my business management skills.

The Renaissance was the era directly following the Middle Ages in Europe. This new art era was first seen in Italy, where it was most prominent. This art form in Europe marked the change from the medieval period to the Early Modern Age. This time particularly celebrated bodies and the female body was considered the epitome of beauty and elegance. (HISTORY, 2010) However, human interpretation of the body nowadays has wholly shifted and become something negative and is seen as an object used to sell goods or services.

The local Manifestation

The local manifestation is two main advertising campaigns and one sub-campaign from the brand Dolce & Gabbana to show their change: autumn/winter (AW) 2007 campaign, since this is the company’s most controversial advertising campaign which got banned soon after it was published, I will then briefly talk about their spring/summer (SS) 2012, because this is where the company noticeably is changing their focus and finally their SS 2014 campaign. Dolce & Gabbana is a luxury fashion brand, founded in 1985 and is run by the Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. The brand proliferated, due to their creative thinking. The brand is designed for the higher income groups who invest in high fashion brands. However, the brand has done a reasonable amount of sexual advertising campaigns, which has lead the company to be labelled with many negative connotations.  (, 2016)


In order to evaluate the research question, I will begin by giving background information as to what the Renaissance era was. Following this, I will establish what Dolce & Gabbana are, and how their advertising campaigns have developed throughout the years. Within this section, I will be conducting a SWOT analysis on two different advertising campaigns from Dolce & Gabbana; the AW 2007 campaign and the SS 2014 campaign. Following this, I will analyze two paintings from the Renaissance era: The Rape of Europa by Titian and The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, painters who are both considered some of the most established painters in Italy. (, 2012) I will be researching background information, analyzing the composition, symbolism, colours and tones of each of the paintings. Finally, I reflect and compare the advertising campaigns to each painting, finding any similarities, and contrasts. To further evaluate the question additional paintings will be compared to the advertising campaign; the Nightmare by Henry Fuseli and Primavera by Botticelli. In order to carry out research, I will be using a number of business websites, such as Forbes, Linkedin, Edition.CNN, the Guardian, and many more. I will further use websites from established art galleries, such as the National Gallery, and magazine articles. 

What is the Renaissance?

The Renaissance was the era which took place after the Middle Ages, which was a dark time for Europe. There were not many advancements with science, and this was a time of war, famine, and the Black Plague. The Renaissance Era was the “rebirth” of European culture, art, politics, and even economics. (Egerton, 2012) This was a time of discovery in many different ways, many artists and thinkers were able to think of new and innovative ways to express their concepts and feelings. This era led to many crucial shifts in thinking, especially for artists and scientists. Realism and naturalism is the main characteristic of Renaissance art, the artists at the time aimed to show people, objects and events in the realist way possible. (HISTORY, 2010) Artists discovered new techniques to express emotion in their works, such as light to add depth, perspectives, and shadows. Nudity and the human body also enthused artists, and it was a central theme to many of their paintings. The era had many more female nude bodies than males. (Williams, 2019) It is often said that the Renaissance is what connected the Middle ages to modern-day.  (HISTORY, 2010)


About Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana is a globally well-known fashion brand who make high-end clothing. The company was founded in 1985 and is now said to be one of the prominent international companies within the luxury goods sector. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana consistently design and are behind the creative directing and styling of the brands clothing, in addition to focusing on the base behind the business, such as the development strategies, and the marketing campaigns. The company creates and aims for exclusivity by targeting higher income groups with their timeless, high-end clothing, and excellent leather goods. (Linkedin, 2019) The company expanded fast especially in the 1990s, and as of the 31st of March 2014, the brand had reached and opened stores in over 40 countries worldwide, with a total of 287 stores. The men try to incorporate their Italian heritage into each one of their campaigns; whether it is imagery from some of their favourite Italian filmmakers or classic Italian paintings. (Craven, 2008) They claim their brand to be; a style in which represents different forms of elegance, and their goal is for their customers to feel luxurious and superior while wearing their clothing. From the beginning, the company was centred about women and the female figure, and in fact, their first collection was called “Real Women”, which is an excellent representation of their company. (Figure


one) However, the company has had many controversies, the first significant backlash being as far back as 2011, which is when the company was charged with tax fraud. (Fashion Luxury, 2018) In order for a company to grow, the practise of branding is one of the more important factors. A high-end company such as Dolce & Gabbana do not want to be seen as a run-down company. Savvy marketing theorists say that every marketing campaign a company release does not have to enhance the brand, however, it should not damage the company brand in any way. Between 2011 and 2016, the company was under fire for the many mistakes they made, which further damaged its brands; aim for superiority, because if you want to seem superior to others you can not show your mistakes. In 2015, the gay duo was interviewed by Panorama, an Italian magazine, and claim that they were extremely opposed to queer people adopting children and further stated that there is just one type of family and that is the traditional one. This interview further tarnished their brand, and many queer spokespeople, such as Elton John, and Sam Smith, (Toppa, 2015) said they will no longer support the company, with many supporters following. The company has also had a number of their advertising campaigns banned, including AW advert in 2006, and their AW advert in 2007. The constant controversies have created negative connotations for the company. (Adegeest, 2018)

The SWOT analysis for Dolce & Gabbana Autumn/Winter (AW) 2007 campaign



-          Media coverage

-          Creates revenue

-          Stating their identity for the advert; “an erotic dream, a sexual game” – Stefano Gabbana (Nudd, 2007)

-          This advertising campaign looks as if it’s glorifying rape

-          The message was too strong Does not directly display any products= not promoting



-          Raised awareness of the company

-          Reaching new markets – advertising campaign was controversial, which sparks interest in many people

-          The advert was banned – not good for brand

-          Could turn women against the brand

-          Many countries will not want to showcase this

-          Negative association could become long term

This is the Dolce & Gabbana advertising campaign for their 2007 AW collection. The advert was for their perfume. There are a total of five models, one woman and four men, all dressed in fairly revealing clothing. The products that are being promoted are hard to see and there is only a small bottle of perfume on the floor. The advertising seems to take place on top of a penthouse, which gives the impression of a millionaire owning it. The setting was chosen to appeal to their target audience: higher-income group since they are likely to live in a similar place, and seem as if they want to be superior to others. However, for many, the advert appears to portray a ‘gang rape’, or looks to be glorifying rape since the man has pinned down the woman by her hands, while three other men watch. This disregards woman and gives women the negative impression of the company: leading to many to boycott the company. This will forever affect the company’s brand since they have lost respect from many women unless they were to take a drastically different approach and exclusively aim for luxury rather than superiority. People on the internet were enraged and many felt uncomfortable by this advert, which are many reasons why the campaign was banned shortly after release. This was the company’s second advertising campaign in a row to be banned, this was negative for the brand, which does not reflect well on their aim to show superiority. However, since the advert was so controversial it gained more publicity, being opposite of what was the goal of banning it was; prevent people from seeing the advert. (Adegeest, 2018) However, if this was an attempt to reach to new customers it is not ethical, nor is it good for their branding. Overall, 2007 was not a good year for Dolce & Gabbana, especially not for their branding, since they want their customers to feel luxurious and superior to others. (, 2010)

When the company saw the backlash the AW 2007 campaign received, the company started to refine their adverts and their branding and from this advertising campaign, they seem to show you can feel luxury, even in a family setting. The adverts were more based on promoting their clothing, though a traditional and stereotypical Italian family. The company quickly changed its mission, by removing the aim for superiority and exclusively aiming for luxury, and they seem to have changed their target audience, from higher-income individuals to wealthy families. This apparent shift can be seen in their SS 2012 advertising campaign, where they show a three-generation Italian family getting a portrait taken. (, 2012) This is an extreme change from their previous adverts, this campaign looks innocent and happy. This advertising campaign was very successful for what the company wanted, they were able to change their brand from someone who doesn’t care about their products, but more about the brand they are creating, to someone who is focusing on building up their brand to something much more successful.

The SWOT analysis for Dolce & Gabbana Spring/Summer (SS) 2014 campaign




-          Creates revenue

-          Positioned the company as a family-friendly brand with a sexual undertone

-          Not directly displaying their products



-          Positive media coverage

-          Reaching a new market – Since this is family-friendly

-          Drastically different from past campaigns meaning it could get written about

-          Could get rid of negative association

-          This advertising campaign is very different from old campaigns from Dolce & Gabbana so they could lose many old customers, who are not used to this

This is the Dolce & Gabbana advert which came out for their 2014 SS, was significantly different from their previous adverts, and this is included within the company’s attempting to reposition their brand. The advert is bright and gets their customers ready for the spring and summer which is to come, and when compared to previous adverts the colours were mostly dull, sad and grey. The advert is showing a typical Sicilian party scene, with a beautiful view, lots of food and people are having fun and dancing. (Sasha, 2014) The drastic change of themes of this advert seems like an attempt from Dolce & Gabbana to appeal to a new range of customers, from before. Further, the scenery is common around Italy, it suggests that D&G have possibly changed their target customers, from the higher-income group and to target the middle to higher income group, this further suggests they are trying to get rid of the superiority theme. This has had an effect on their brand since there is now a wider spectrum of customers. From this campaign, you can see the company is showing the fun side of their clothing rather than the privileged paradise they pushed forwards in their 2007 advert. However, their new approach does not get them as much media attention, which can be gathered by the little number of articles written about this advert, which could seem like a negative, but in fact, this new approach has helped their branding immensely. In this campaign, it is much clearer that they are fulfilling their mission, of aiming for luxury and they seem to truly care about their brand, and how people perceive the brand.

Analysing paintings and comparison

Titian, The Rape of Europa, 1560-1562

Titians ability to experiment with different styles, but focusing on the religious paintings, such as “The Rape of Europa”, painted between 1560-1562. (The National Gallery, 2018) Titian’s artistic creation of Rape of Europa recounts to the narrative of a young lady, named Europa, who was abducted and raped by the god Zeus, who disguised himself as a quiet white bull. (Collins, 1997) Titian has ensured nothing is placed in the middle of the painting, so there are many focal points, rather than one, thus creating drama within the painting. Europa has been placed in the bottom right corner. The ‘white bull’; the bull is a masculine symbol and means a powerful spirit, and the white is a symbol of goodness, innocence, and purity. However, this is the opposite of what is going on in the work of art. Zeus, the god of the sky has disguised himself as a white bull to trick Europa to rape her. In the top left corner, two angels look like they are coming to save Europa from this tragedy. Angels are the perfect symbol of faith, hope and love. (, 2017) Titian has painted a stormy sky in the top right corner, but a calm blue sky in the middle, which reflects the whirlwind of emotions. However, the stormy and dark sky is slowly taking over the bright blue skies, thus meaning fear is slowly taking over Europas emotions.

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Relationship between The Rape of Europa and 2007 Autumn/Winter advertising campaigns  (Figure eight, figure two and three)

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana said during interviews that their adverts are inspired by Italian culture, especially; Italian films or classical Italian paintings. When the meaning and composition among other things have been analysed and compared there is evidence which proves that The Rape of Europa has inspired Dolce & Gabbana. The women in both of these works seem to be held down and forced to do something they do not want, while three men watch it happen. The men are evidently in power in both images and the presence of dominance condones this behaviour and normalizes it, which is what society is trying to get rid of. (Harris, 1977) The women are not making eye contact with the person who is holding them down or any of the men around them; a clear sign the women do not want to be in this situation. The composition of figure two and figure eight are similar, the women are both being held down in the bottom right corner. The scene in the advert looks like a ‘gang rape’ and when compared to ‘The Rape of Europa’ it is evident what the company wanted from this advert. Undoubtedly the company wanted to sell sex rather than their products, which holds a bad reputation for their brand.

It does not seem as if the company only drew inspiration from ‘The Rape of Europa’ The advert can also be compared to ‘The Nightmare’ by Henry Fuseli, not from Italian descent but was popular among the Italian art scholars. (figure nine) The painting features a woman who looks to be laying down/unconscious, while a demon-like creature sits on her chest, enabling her to sit up. Henry Fuseli wanted to get attention from this painting, and he wanted to intrigue people by it, which is similar to what Dolce & Gabbana wanted; attention from the media (Tate, 2017) Overall, for their 2007 advertising campaign the company has drawn inspiration from both of the paintings. From the comparison of the painting and the advertising campaign, it can be seen that the company’s goal was not to sell their products. 

The birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli

Some of the most esteemed artists in Italy included Sandro Botticelli, one of his most famous paintings includes ‘The Birth of Venus’. The Goddess of Love and Beauty is the central figure of this painting, and the painting is based on a poem by Poliziano. To the Romans, she was known as Venus. Venus stands naked in the centre of the painting, looking godly and beautiful and seems to love the attention focused on her. Venus was the perfect portrayal of the Renaissance woman; thin, pale and curvy. The length of neck and legs have been exaggerated, to bring the views attention to her marvellous features. (The National Gallery, 2019) A large part of the midground is the wast sea itself, however since the sea is painted flat most of the attention is on the foreground, Venus. It is believed that the breath of Zephyrus had the power to create a new life. He is seen embracing with a nymph which symbolizes the act of love. (Jones, 2012) The colours in the painting are warm, even the sea, usually the sea in paintings is a cold blue bit in the painting it is a warm green colour.

Relationship between The Birth of Venus and 2014 Spring/Summer advertising campaigns – (figure ten, figure six, and figure seven)

The advertising campaign for the Dolce & Gabbana 2014 SS collection, is one of their family/friendly adverts. As previously said, Dolce & Gabbana draw inspiration from Italian culture. The Birth of Venus shows the story of the Roman goddess Venus being born and the people coming to her and giving her clothing and luck. The story behind the painting is not similar to the story in the advert, but the images look similar in composition. In the Dolce & Gabbana advert, the lady in the red dress (figure six) looks to be standing in the exact same position as Venus is, however, she has pulled up her dress slightly showing more of her thigh, which is a sign of sexuality. The birth of Venus is about the birth of a goddess, which could be what Dolce & Gabbana are trying to get from their advert; the birth of their new brand; a less sexual brand. This could also be an attempt to say that the model is a goddess. Dolce & Gabbana was not exclusively inspired by the Birth of Venus, the campaign was could also have been inspired by La Primavera, by Sandro Botticelli. (figure eleven) (, 2012) The exact meaning behind the painting is unknown, but it looks like a party scene, the women seem to be dancing around the Roman goddess Venus, similarly to the advert. La Primavera directly translates to spring, and the advertising campaign is for Dolce & Gabbana’s spring/summer clothing line. Overall, when the ad-campaigns are compared to the paintings it is clear that Dolce & Gabbana have drawn inspiration from them, and you can see how much the company’s vision has changed.


From the research, it seems Dolce & Gabbana have been inspired by the Birth of Venus and the Rape of Europa to a great extent. With the similarities of composition and background story, colours, and even the seasons. Dolce & Gabbana have evolved throughout the years and so have their adverts immensely. They began their career with aggressive strong stories in their adverts, and most likely never considered what consequences that would have on their brand. To completely reinventing their brand and their whole attitude and becoming much more brand-friendly and caring about their customer perception of them is. This change can both be seen directly from their adverts, but more in-depth from paintings they draw inspiration from. The Rape of Europa, a horrible story of a young woman getting raped, compared to the Birth of Venus which is a beautiful story of the Roman goddess Venus being born. They have also changed and evolved their perception of gender. In their 2007 campaign, the men seem to be in control and women seem to be an object, in both their adverts and the paintings they were inspired by. However, Dolce & Gabbana have attempted to break this stereotype and tried to fix their mistakes, by making the men and women equal to one and other in their adverts. Overall this essay was set to investigate whether Dolce & Gabbana have been inspired by Renaissance paintings. From my research and analysis of both adverts and paintings it seems to show that Dolce & Gabbana have been greatly inspired by the paintings.

If I were to look further into this topic I would look at the sexualization of men. It is often forgotten but men are also sexualized in the media, even though it might seem that it mostly happens to women and this number is increasing. 


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