On the Art of Bathing

On the Art of Bathing

The ritual of bathing is something much more than basic hygiene: the glamour that has unfolded in art, cinema, and literature upon women soaking in tubs is something of enormous study. Whether it’s Tennessee Williams’ brilliant creation of Blanche DuBois indulging in “hydrotherapy they call it” to help calm her nerves or Marilyn Monroe fantasizing of an ice-cold bath during a New York City heatwave in Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch, women bathing is something of which we cannot seem to get enough. Today we think of private bathrooms and bathtubs filled with organic bath beads but, long before indoor plumbing, harkening back to Ancient Greece, the Indus Valley Civilization and the Ottoman Empire, communal bathing has been a common act. Because of the need for cleanliness, there were municipal bathing pools where people could relax after spending time at a gymnasium (much like today).

Since the sixth century B.C. communal bathing has been an elaborate art. Marble pools complete with steps for lounging, aromatic rub-downs, vapor baths, and cleansing sands were available in Ancient Greece and Rome. Saunas and steam rooms have also been hugely popular throughout history. Today, some of the most beautiful and luxurious hot springs can be found in Japan and were used (along with private indoor baths) by prominent families as far back as the Heian period (794 to 1185).

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw some of the most incredible paintings focused on the sumptuous beauty and art of bathing. To name a few, there are Bathers at Asnières by Georges Seurat (1883), Les Grandes Baigneuses by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1887), and the series of Bather paintings by Paul Cézanne (most notably his Large Bathers piece first exhibited in 1906). Whether one is experiencing the pleasure of the arts or purchasing a bottle of lavender oil to enjoy in the privacy of their own home, bathing is one of life’s most enjoyable and fascinating necessities.

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