The Five Senses is an academic painting by famous Austrian artist Hans Makart which we painted between 1872 and 1879.
The five senses are here shown to be exampled by five nude female figures who, from left to right, experience and show touch, hearing, looking, smelling, and tasting. The figure looking in the mirror in the central panel has special interest as we too look – perhaps at ourselves, our own perception as we look at the work.
It is an allegorical succession in which five female figures within five tall but slim canvases represent the five senses of the human being: Touch, Hearing, Sight, Smell, and Taste.
These idealized figures of young women, in perfect Makart style, are also richly colored, as are their Edenic surroundings. The five panels, therefore, ooze a pervasive soft and warm light tending to the red. This mood bestows upon the bodies an impression of warmth as well as tenderness.
The Five Senses is a panel of five oil paintings produced by Hans Makart, the chief artist of the Viennese Court in the second half of the 19th century and the premier Austrian painter of his age.
The figure representing Touch is a female we observe from the back as with one hand she holds aloft a newborn and with the other, she grips a decorated sheet made from a sheer material like voile or gossamer.
Hearing is represented in the act of cupping a hand next to her ear as she stands with the lower half of her body mostly draped in cloth. Notably, the nudity of Makart’s figures is absolute except for the pubic region of all. Thus, while we see as fully nude the two figures with their backs turned, the three who give us the front have the genital region excluded. The choice is clearly dictated by pudeur.
Sight is represented in the act of turning a glass in a particular direction. The object appears convex on one side and transparent, which makes us think it might work as a magnifying lens. Sight is situated as the central panel and appears as the only one of the figures to look in a direction that points outside her panel but toward us, the spectators.
Sight is also the figure whose curvaceous physique comes to the highest expression due to her forward-facing orientation and pondered position. It will be seen that Makart has arranged his Senses in geometric parallels: the two outer figures are turning their backs and one is inclining leftward while the other inclines rightward; the two inside figures, on the left and the right of the center, are in quarter profile, one showing her left and the other her right flank, and both are turning inward to the center.
The central panel, then, gives us Sight as a forward-facing front.
Finally, Smell is represented with a backward motion of the head as she smells a rose from a hanging bush. Taste, instead, is a woman reaching up a frond to grasp golden-looking apples, thus becoming the one figure to clearly evoke, with her nudity inside a paradisial context, the Eve of Genesis.
The panel set is a minutely realistic representation of sensuality, an emblem of Makart’s style and interest as well as of Viennese high-society taste.
Hans Makart’s The Five Senses is in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, Austria.