Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Baroque Stories for Feb 7th: Violence Against Women

Patterns in Art History 
File:ACMA 679 Kore 1.JPGFile:Aphrodite of Milos.jpgFile:Bronze Statuette of a Veiled and Masked Dancer 1.jpg
Peplos Kore, ~530 bce, Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Knidos, 4th c. bce, classical Greek, Aphrodite of Milos, Widely know as Venus de Milo, about 130-100 bce, Classical Greek? Hellenistic Greek? , Veiled and Masked Dancer, hellenistic, 3rd to 2nd century, Hellenistic

File:Duccio The-Madonna-and-Child-with-Angels-1.jpgFile:Raphael - Madonna in the Meadow - Google Art Project.jpg

Duccio, Madonna and Child, ~1300, Byzantine, Raphael, Madonna of the Meadow, 1505, High RenaissanceParmagianino, Madonna of the long Neck, ~1540, Mannerist, Caravaggio, Madonna of Loreto, ~1605 Baroque 

As I mentioned, the Renaissance transformed the way that artists told stories, placing emphasis on the human characters and the humanity of the characters in the story, so that the Virgin became a fully drawn mother with complex psychology
File:Raphael - Madonna in the Meadow - Google Art Project.jpg
 rather than an immutable, unchanging icon, for example. 
File:Duccio The-Madonna-and-Child-with-Angels-1.jpg
The subject matter of art in the Renaissance, however, kept strong ties to the medieval period, with most artists giving new life to Christian stories that had provided the major content for Early Christian and Medieval art. After artists like Raphael and Michelangelo achieved a degree of perfection within these Renaissance ideals, history sees artists scratching their heads, wondering, what's next? how can we best that? Mannerism, with its exaggerated elegance and interest in distortion to achieve particular effects, shows us one direction. Many people tie the experimentations of Mannerism to those of Hellenism (often critically, sometimes admiringly). 

Some see Mannerism as not a proper period but more of a bridge to the more muscular, bold, dramatic experimentation of the Baroque, which  continued to inject the stories of the Bible with new life and new aesthetics, as we see with Caravaggio creating images like The Calling of St. Matthew  in a scene of action, startling, everyday naturalism, and high drama. 
Caravaggio, Calling of St. Matthew, ~1600
His images of the Madonna demonstrate the same kinds of choices: he makes the people of the stories of the Bible just like us it seems. Everyday folk, and painfully real. 

But artists of the Baroque also tackled a broader and increasingly broader range of subjects.

The painters of the Baroque often felt the sting of harsh criticism, and it often came from the intense drama they found in traditional stories and from the intensely dramatic stories they brought back from classical literature. 

File:Narcissus-Caravaggio (1594-96).jpg
Bernini's powerful engagement with awful and awfully beautiful stories of violent rape and abduction reveal many of the Baroque period's formal and conceptual qualities: dramatic pushing and pulling energies, dramatic lighting, dramatic, often violent stories, dramatically active compositions... getting the idea? drama provides a key feature of the Baroque period. Many have located the sculptures' tremendous power in the way Bernini creates that unbreakable marriage of violence and beauty; they seduce us with their wonders so that we become implicit in their crimes. 

File:Rapeofproserpinadetail.JPGAs Mary Carroll writes in "The Erotics of Absolutism: Rubens and the Mystification of Sexual Violence" (in The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History, eds. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, pp.138-159)"The spirited ebullience and sensual appeal of the group work to override our darker reflections about the coercive nature of the abduction." I cite from Allen Farber's valuable article here, but the entire article is available on JSTOR (available via our library resources).

These scenes of rape gave Baroque artists playgrounds on which to experiment with one of the most prominent formal traits of the Baroque: energetic action met with reaction; every movement in one direction matched with an equally potent one in the other direction. The scenes seemed irresistible to one Baroque artist after another. 

So Bernini gives us: 

 The Rape of Proserpina (often referred to as Pluto and  Persephone), 1620's
File:The Rape of Proserpina 2 - Bernini - 1622 - Galleria Borghese, Rome.jpg

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, 1620's


presumably Bernini was building on things he'd seen in sculptures by the Mannerist sculptor Giambologna, 
File:Giambologna sabine.jpg
Giambologna, Rape of the Sabine Women, ~1580
Elsewhere around Europe, Baroque artists also tackled scenes of rape and the abduction of women, placing focus on the beauties of female flesh and the physical power of men, seducing us to forget the horror also present in the scene. Peter Paul Rubens, in particular, focused his energies on scenes of rape and violent abduction.
Titan, Tarquinius and Lucretia, 1571
Rubens, Rape of Lucretia, 1610

Peter Paul Rubens, Rape of Daughters of Leucippus, 1617, Baroque
The Rape of Europa - Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens, Rape of Europa, 1630, Baroque

File:Peter Paul Rubens - Susanna and the Elders - WGA20267.jpg
Rubens, Susanna and the Elders, ~1610, Baroque

Male artists have created each of the paintings I have shown here, and have generally created them for one of two reasons: because a noble patron asked them to create a scene of rape as a way of demonstrating their absolute power, or as a cabinet painting for the private enjoyment of a male patron. Either way, they celebrate the power of the image, its ferocity, and its sexuality. 
File:Poussin RapeSabineLouvre.jpg
Nicolas Poussin, Rape of the Sabine Women, 1635, Neoclassical

Surely, a comparison between male and female artists' depictions of scenes of rape would prove useful, unfortunately, such a comparison is all but impossible. Of course, few women painted during the Baroque era, even fewer painters gained fame. Thus, as Art Critic C. Roger Denson writes, " During the nearly three millennia in which sexual violence against women have been prominently portrayed in Western, non-pornographic art, except for the single and pivotal exception of Artemisia Gentileschi's Susanna and the Elders, painted in 1610, the most renowned and significant renderings in pre-modern painting and sculpture are made by men." (source

File:Susanna and the Elders (1610), Artemisia Gentileschi.jpg
Artemisia Gentileschi, Susanna and the Elders, 1610

Indeed, works byArtemisia Gentileschi stand out in the Baroque era not just because they are painted by a woman, but because in them she depicts images of women of significant power, and often, women exerting that power over men who have attempted to do them violence. 
File:GENTILESCHI Judith.jpg
Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes, ~1620
History has found it difficult to separate Artemisia's images of women doing violence on men as other than vengeance achieved in paint, and indeed it seems difficult to imagine that did not compose part of the scene. Somewhat sickeningly, somewhat amusingly, it seems Artemesia may also have found a professional opportunity in the violence she experienced. Because she achieved enormous renown through the rape trial, she may have found patrons among men interested in these images of female dominance. (I need to look into sources on this... I haven't researched this in some time! Check back!)
Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maid with the Head of Holofernes, ~1614 (Key Work: 14:10)
Unfortunately, there are not more women artists painting scenes of rape or sexual violence against women during the Baroque, nor indeed until the 20th century, with a couple notable exceptions. Artemisia, first, in her image of Susanna, and our assumptions about her images of retribution (Judith). Then, Käthe Kollwitz, who drew and etched many images of the pain of the poor or powerless, which often, during the early 20th century in Germany, included women. Her most famous etching concentrates the pain of a woman on losing her young child in an almost violent, and certainly animalistic, image where the impossibility of sorting violence from tenderness recalls the sculptures of Bernini. 
 In many ways Kollwitz sets the stage for what we will see in women's depiction of rape the century that followed her in the one image (that I know of!) where she tackles this subject. 
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with Dead Child, 1903, German modernism/expressionism, etching. 

Käthe Kollwitz, Raped, 1907, etching

As Denson describes, unlike male artists of the past (and many say filmmakers and pornographers of today), who have shown shown rape as often titilating and always gorgeous, woman have in no way glorified rape. 

File:Peter Paul Rubens - The Rape of the Sabine Women - WGA20310.jpg
 Rubens, Rape of the Sabine Women, 1637
Rather, they have demonstrated its entirely devastating, disempowering, life-destroying effect. Denson writes: "Instead of the women presenting us a vividly articulated window onto rape, we are drawn into the shattered psyche of the rape victim through a kind of black hole punched through her and from 

ana mendieta - earth work 2
Ana Mendieta, Silueta Works in Mexico 20 x 13 inches, 1973-78, C-Print

which drains her life force so relentlessly, she is made blind, immobile and drawn into the deepest, darkest isolation--a catatonic cocoon of numbing self-annihilation that, if she survives, long outlives the male's momentary and insensate narcissism."(source) Denson's word, cocoon, describes the visual qualities of so many contemporary (female) artists response to rape. Many of them retain qualities of beauty-- round, unified, contained, images-- yet all seem to refuse the seductive aspects of beauty. These works help us see the effects of brutality, the extreme pain, the isolation, just as Kollwitz captured the extreme pain of a mother losing her child with a gesture of extreme internalization and withdrawal from the outside world. A few examples: 
Janine Antoni, Saddle, 2000. Source

Kara Walker,many different silhouettes, 1990's


"Our culture seems to believe that it's entertaining to teach women to be frightened" Kiki Smith Source

Cindy Sherman destabilizes the way visual art has constructed particular ideas of femininity in her hundreds of self-portraits. Many of them engage with the world of film, and its continuation of making art directed toward a male constructed idea of female identity:
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still, 1980's

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still, 198o's source
and then she refuses to let us rest, queering her constructions of identity with gender bending based on a great gender-bender, Caravaggio
Cindy Sherman, Untitled (History Portrait) 1988-90 source

A few women artists have used their works as platforms on which to shout their horror at violence against women and the lighthearted way the law, media, and history have treated it. The following images are pretty horrible, and I'm sorry. Moreover, they have a way of transforming the powers of the Baroque rape scenes from seductive to sickening. This may be important work for our own time, given the numbers. 

Sue Coe. Woman Walks into Bar - Is Raped by Four Men on the Pool Table - While 20 Watch. 1983

Sue Coe


MoMA2000: Open Ends (1960–2000)

, September 28, 2000–March 4, 2001
Coe is a powerful speaker as well as graphic artist, and I quote her words describing this image at length. Image and words from the MoMA website. 
"This was a true story of a young woman that parked outside a bar, I think to get a pack of cigarettes, and her children were in the car. And she walked in and she was raped be four men on a pool table, while twenty watched. And no one really thought to call the police because they obviously didn't see it as wrong.
"I was doing work for magazines at the time of this rape, and I did a very similar drawing to the one you're looking at. The magazine published it but they censored it. They cut it in half so only the woman was exposed and it was a rape of the image, if you like, because what I was trying to do in this painting is expose the violence of the men. So then that made me furious, so angry, that I did this huge version so there wouldn't be any question of what was going on. I saw this woman as just any woman. Any woman that can be raped. We are the onlookers, we are the twenty people that didn't call the police, that didn't perceive this as wrong, so we are colluding with the oppressor, and we're looking at this scene. Are we silent? How do we see this woman? And then I have people playing games on the left-hand side, they're playing game machines. They're just absorbed in play.
"I love the elegance of black and white. So, even though you're looking at this painting, it looks like its color, it's predominantly black and white, it's predominantly graphite. It's just a tiny pencil, you know, sort of like a termite crawling its way over acres of paper. And I still live in the tiny apartment I did the painting in, which is why it's in sections, because I only have a room like ten feet by eight feet. So, I have to do the work in increments and then try and piece it together. This was painted in the time of Ronald Reagan and it was times of great lack of compassion.
"Basically, this painting is therapy. It's what you do with extreme fury, when we witness such cruelty and oppression, where do we put that? And I put that in the work. It opens up a dialogue, it gives people an opportunity to talk about these issues. I've seen men stand in front of this painting and they've discussed rape, and they've vocalized their feelings about this painting. Doing this work can change people. It's changed me seeing work like this. So it is part and parcel of change, not to ignore social issues. source

With her typical remarkable intensity, Frida Kahlo captures this diminishment of the results of violence against women in her painting Unos Cuantos Piquetitos (A few little pricks, or A few little nips)  from 1935. Kahlo, herself deeply wounded by the infidelity of her own famous husband, captures the mad words of a man who murdered his wife for infidelity, in a banner that hearkens back to medieval religious texts, even held by a dove (and a raven). At the trial, the man defended himself for slashing his wife with a knife, saying, 'it was only a few little nips,' little nips that ended her life. 


Interestingly, Bernini, who beat up his brother and left him for dead when he caught him sleeping with the woman Bernini was having an affair with, a woman married to Bernini's studio assistant, a beautiful woman at least until Bernini hired someone to slice her face up, also gave us a highly unique scene of Ecstasy from a woman's point of view, told in very close response to her own words. 


File:Santa Maria della Vittoria - 4.jpg

File:Estasi di Santa Teresa.jpg

File:Cornaro SM della Vittoria.jpg

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying" (Quoted everywhere, from St. Theresa's Autobiography.)

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