“I will show your Lordship what a woman can do”: Artemisia Gentileschi’s compelling feminist life – Hyperallergic Arguably, the sexual assault she suffered aged 17 at the hands of her father Orazio’s colleague Agostino Tassi has come to define her, if not in art historical terms then certainly in the popular imagination; her images of powerful female figures are easily summarized in auction or museum blurbs as avatars for feminist strength in defiance of (or revenge against) this singular biographical event. The 2020 show made inroads toward shaking off this reductive and emotionally driven interpretation. Barker deliberately sets out to correct “panegyric” accounts of her life and work, bringing together the most recent art historical developments and discoveries of primary documents to flesh out her biography, and asserting that we “have only begun to get to know her.”
For more on this powerful artist, you really must check out these reviews of her (and others’) paintings of Judith and Holofernes, both part one and part two, that I shared a while back.
And it was nice to see Sheffield’s Women of Steel statue as today’s Bing background image.
Of, or For Mary Wollstonecraft? – History Workshop Hambling asserts that it is a sculpture, rather than a statue, that is for Wollstonecraft, not of her. A video to mark the unveiling of the statue premiered on the Mary on the Green social media profile in which Hambling describes the design as ‘a tower of intermingling female forms, culminating in the figure of the woman at the top who is challenging, and ready to challenge, the world.’ The ‘intermingling’ forms are suggestive of a historic community of women, out of which the more detailed, lone female figure is born into the ‘now’. This design choice is intended to represent the legacy of Wollstonecraft’s feminist work.
But, as this piece from The Art Newspaper says, even backlashes get a backlash.
What I like about Hambling’s figure is that it is nude, but not erotic. Wollstonecraft would have recognised the honesty of Hambling’s focus. “For man and woman,” she wrote in The Vindications of the Rights of Women (1792), “truth… must be the same; yet the fanciful female character, so prettily drawn by poets and novelists, demanding the sacrifice of truth and sincerity, virtue becomes a relative idea, having no other foundation than utility, and of that utility men pretend arbitrarily to judge, shaping it to their own convenience.” Naked, stripped of outward signs of wealth and privilege, we are all equal.
This status, for a very different woman, is also proving controversial, though for very different reasons.
Is Margaret Thatcher’s hometown ready to put her on a pedestal? – The New York Times [W]hile the unveiling of a statue is usually a festive occasion, few in Grantham expect Mrs. Thatcher’s homecoming to be celebrated as a hero’s return. “If you’re a Conservative,” said Graham Newton, the news editor of the weekly Grantham Journal, “you want a statue, and you want her recognized. But if you’re not, there’s a lot of people who — not to put a fine point on it — hated her.”
“She was never very fond of Grantham, and so Grantham was never very fond of her,” said John Campbell, a biographer, pointing out that Mrs. Thacher rarely visited the town as prime minister, and did not mention it in speeches. “She was happy to leave it behind,” he said.
“You come out of the museum and the first thing you’re going to see is a 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe with her entire backside and underwear exposed,” Grachos pointed out. “We serve over 100,000 school-age children that come to our museum every single year. What message does that send to our young people, our visitors and community to present a statue that objectifies women, is sexually charged and disrespectful?”
I’ve got the art degree, I know all about the male gaze, but here’s something I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not really considered before.
How black women were whitewashed by art
All it takes is a few minutes of searching ‘Queen of Sheba painting’ on Google Images to see a litany of reclining, exoticised white women glancing languorously either at the viewer or King Solomon. There were once some depictions of the Queen of Sheba as dark-skinned, but the Renaissance saw her whitewashing and sexualisation on a grand scale. For Ohajuru it jars with earlier depictions of her, such as that seen at the altarpiece of Klosterneuburg in Austria, which portrays her visiting the king next to an image of the Adoration of the Magi. “She was used as a prefiguration, a foreteller, a prophesiser, that a king would visit the baby Jesus, just as a queen visited Solomon.” By the 18th Century she is no longer a queen meeting a king to have a healthy debate – she is an idolatrous seductress.
Of blackness and ‘beauty’
Unlike his predecessor, Bazille does not capture a black woman as a servant to a naked, white prostitute as Manet does in his famous Olympia painting, but rather as a human being who exists outside of deference to a white woman. Peonies, symbols of riches, honor, and prosperity, surround her. She extends one flower out toward the frame as if a potential patron has approached her station. Like Manet’s black model Laure, she wears a headscarf and white outfit, but this peony-possessing woman’s features are much more defined. One cannot lose the connection of her curved lips from top to bottom, or the shape of her eyebrows. In contrast, Olympia, which many art historians call a modernist update to Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1534), has inspired much study of Victorine Meurent, the naked white model who is staring directly at the spectator, instead of her servant Laure, whose history is sparsely documented. Her last name is not on record. It is another example of how a black model’s humanity is not given the same recognition as that of her white female counterpart.