Roman Ideals of Beauty and Playing with Gender: Analyzing Various Representations of Omphale and Hercules in Roman Art

Introduction
During the third century AD, Plotinus, who was a Neo-Platonist, changed the traditional view of Beauty accepted earlier in antiquity. Beauty had been considered to be the symmetry of parts, but Plotinus defined Beauty differently—a Principle created and emanated an Idea, which could also be called Beauty. Additionally, he argues that each part of a whole does not specifically have Beauty; instead, the individual parts combine, contributing to make the final product beautiful. However, he continues, if the whole is considered Beautiful, the parts must also be beautiful because the whole could not be made of ugly parts. Plotinus wrote his views concerning his contemporaries, and there is a connection between his aesthetic theories and Roman art of the time.

The aesthetic theoretical implications of Roman art, specifically of the kind outlined by Plotinus, have not been explored thoroughly, according to Thea Ravasi.[1] In Roman art, there are a few portrayals of Omphale, the queen of Lydia, and Hercules, the demigod, which are seen in sculpture, fresco, and mosaic. Although a variety of mediums are used, analyzing the various representations of Omphale and Hercules presents what Romans prized aesthetically—or the combination and juxtaposition of the ideal and the real, the feminine versus masculine—revealing the play between male and female gender roles during the Roman era.

The Myth
To begin, understanding the depictions of representations of Hercules and Omphale depends on knowing the myth. While there are numerous versions, in the telling used for the purpose of this paper, Hercules desired to atone for murdering one of his friends, Iphitus. After consulting the oracle Apollo, the god advised Hercules to serve Omphale, Queen of Lydia, even though Hercules, a son of Zeus, was famous because of his exceptional strength. Despite the change in status from a son of a god to a slave, Hercules still completed the tasks Omphale gave him, which she, as the queen, tailored for him specifically.[2] There were numerous tasks, such Hercules being forced to do women’s work and wear women’s clothing. For example, he had to hold a basket of wool, while Omphale and her maidens worked on the spinning. Moreover, while Hercules wore women’s clothing, Omphale wore the Nemean Lion skin.

In Greek mythology, the Nemean lion was a vicious monster. Because of its golden fur, it could not be killed by humans’ weapons and its claws were extremely sharp. Hercules killed the Nemean lion as the first of the twelve labors that King Eurystheus required. Omphale not only wore the lion skin but also carried the club of Hercules’. Tertullian (c. 155–240), an early Christian author who lived in a Roman province in Africa, writes about the pagan myth, which is surprising given his Christian background. He reasons that the skin must have been “softened, smoothened, and freed from stench for a long time, as had been done, so I presume, in Omphale’s house, by means of balsam and fenugreek oil” because Tertullian believed that not even the strongest of women could have held up, let alone wear, the mighty lion skin.[3] Nevertheless, over time, Omphale fell in love with Hercules because of his strength and handsome features, and the couple married. This myth was used in Roman political maneuvering.[4] Yet artists throughout time have explored the gender roles of the myth in art.[5] The following sections will explore various Roman artistic representations of the myth through the mediums of sculpture, fresco, and mosaic.

Sculptures
A unique sculpture is Portrait Statue of Woman in form of Omphale, which is located currently in the Vatican Museum (Fig. 1). In funerary Roman art, the deceased individual’s portrait sometimes included a mature face juxtaposed with an ideal body comparable to the gods, which was popular among the Roman nobility and the wealthy. This sculpture shows a middle-aged woman with an elaborate hairstyle, indicating the Severan period, which occurred from AD 193 to AD 235. The hairstyle is parted in the middle, with two braids in the front, framing her face; there appears to be slight waves in her hair that cover her ears. There is the Nemean lion head covering, although no Hercules is included. The figure is almost completely nude; the claws of the lion reach towards her nipples, and a cloth, coming from behind, rests by her side, and her right hand holds it closely to her body in front of her genitalia. Quite a bit of skin, which appears smooth and tangible, is showing, and her left arm cradles the club.

Picture1

Figure 1. Portrait Statue of Woman in form of Omphale, Roman, AD 193–235.

With this sculpture of Portrait Statue of Woman in form of Omphale, the ideal and the realistic are portrayed. There is a great contrast between ideal body type, such as one of a goddess like Venus, and realistic facial portrait of this middle-aged woman. She stands serene and divine looking with elegant contrapposto, while her face is clearly aged older than the rest of the body. The nudity of statues becomes a type of costume, which gives resemblances of divinity to the portrait of the deceased.[6] Visually, these juxtaposed styles of the old and the new look strange and even incoherent for modern viewers; however, Plotinus and other Romans of this time would have found these portrayals to be aesthetically pleasing. Beauty, during this time, was the unity of the composed individual parts. Therefore, because the parts are beautiful, here the idealized body as well as the aged face, the whole is considered beautiful. Additionally, the parts considered masculine (e.g., the lion skin and club) juxtaposed with the parts considered feminine (e.g., the long hairstyle, the goddess-like body, the smooth skin, and graceful elegance) combine to create an object of Beauty.

It is unclear why this woman would have chosen to be shown in the form of Omphale. Of course, Omphale is a woman of great authority, as her country’s sole leader. Therefore, the woman whose portrait was being made may have desired to be associated with that strength and resilience. Another juxtaposition is the sophisticated, detailed hairstyle, indicated earlier as a style from the Severan era, versus the lion skin. The hairstyle is meant to be seen because the lion skin is placed quite a bit back on her head. If this occurred in real life, the skin would probably fall over from the weight of the head; therefore, this woman obviously wanted her hairstyle to be visible. During the Roman period, beauty was connected with physical features as well as feminine virtue. If a women had an elegant hairstyle, she was seen as being both beautiful and virtuous. Therefore, unique and elaborate hairstyles showed women, especially of the upper classes, as having traits of the ideal Roman woman while also being stylish and affluent.[1]

Hairstyles were used by the upper-class women to push political or social agendas, depending on who was ruling at the time.[2] Perhaps the woman depicted as Omphale desired to present herself as an ideal Roman woman and citizen by following the hairstyle trends of the time. At the same time, this sculpture emphasizes her strength or even maybe her position of power if she belonged to the upper classes, which would make sense given the quality of this statue.

Another reason this woman may present herself as Omphale could be to associate herself with the goddess Venus. When creating portraits and life-size statues, the body type and overall portrayal reflected trends in politics, religious affiliations, and personal taste. For Roman women, the selection of the body type portrayed reflected a particular role. It was important as well as difficult for Roman women “to fashion themselves as fit but amply endowed, wealthy but modest, elaborately coiffured but capable of working with wool, and sensuous but models of correct behavior.”[3] These roles were portrayed through the selection of body types; the body type became a type of façade that was connected with various Roman goddesses, who were recognizable by the general populace. By choosing a particular body type, the bearer also took on the characteristics of that goddess.

For example, the goddess Venus was associated with not only attractiveness but also fertility. Here this woman has the body type of Venus, with a flawless figure, perhaps to present herself as desirable and fertile. Her aged face, in contrast, emphasizes her wisdom and experience, which could be associated with Omphale, a wise and competent ruler. This contrast of hyper-feminine with the naturalistic features shows that wealthy, upper-class women of the time had a great say in how they wanted to be presented.

The decision to not include Hercules is an intriguing one. Of course, no Hercules could be shown because perhaps the woman shown here is unmarried or desired a representation of only herself. With the patriarchy of Roman society, women were expected to fulfill values—chastity, fertility, beauty—that men desired.[4] This portrait of the woman as Omphale stands in contrast to patriarchal expectation of Roman women.

She seems to associate herself with Queen Omphale, who had political power typically associated outside a Roman woman’s world, and Venus, who was a goddess of great beauty and fertility, which are associated with the child-bearing and the home. Additionally, she maintains a realistic portrait for her face, therefore combining different worlds into one thoughtful presentation. This portrait is a deliberate decision in complex, multi-referential representation. This woman does not need a cross-dressing Hercules because these juxtapositions in style and references emphasize her own power and decisions in how she presents herself and how she wants others to see her.

Another example of a statue, quite different from the portrait statue discussed above, is included in a marble statue group of Hercules and Omphale, now located in Naples at the National Archaeological Museum (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Marble statue group of Hercules and Omphale, Roman, first century AD.

This Roman statue comes from first century AD. Omphale is shown wearing Hercules’ cloak and lion-skin headdress, which is further up on her head than the woman’s portrait as Omphale. The claws of the lion do not come down her chest here, and she does not attempt to make herself modest, as seen previously. Instead, the cloak wraps around her left thigh, and her genitalia is completely exposed. Additionally, she leans on the club of Hercules, which is in her left hand this time. In contrast, Hercules, who is dressed in a woman’s tunic that slips off his shoulder in a Venus-like manner, wears wears a woman’s snood and holds skeins of wool in his hands with wool basket at his feet.[5] Hercules’ cork-screw curls create a prominent beard, and both of them stand in contrapposto that are a reflection of the other—Omphale’s left leg bends, and Hercules’ right leg bends. While classical in style in many ways, Hercules’ legs look stubby and shorter than expected. However, these shorter legs make the couple close to the same height and, consequently, the same level.

In this sculpture, Hercules does not appear to be ashamed of being dressed in women’s clothing, which could be because there are other Greek and Roman stories with cross-dressing men. For example, Achilles’ mother hides her son from the Greeks, who are preparing for war and want Achilles, the great warrior, to join them. Because his mother is concerned that he might die, she hides him in a palace of young women, and he is dressed as a woman to fit in with his surroundings. However, when Odysseus pretends to be a peddler and goes to the palace to catch Achilles, Odysseus places swords underneath the other trinkets in order to catch Achilles, who is interested in weapons. As depicted in the Sarcophagus of Alexander Severus and Mammaea, the scene in the sarcophagus shows Achilles reaching out to grab and examine the weapons with his female clothing falling off, revealing who he is (Fig. 3).[6]

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Figure 3. Sarcophagus of Alexander Severus and Mammaea, Rome, AD 250, illustration from History of Rome by Victor Duruy (c. 1884).

One reason that Roman artists may not show Hercules and Achilles as being ashamed of dressing in women’s clothing is because it is only momentary, since the viewers know that men will go back to their traditional clothing. Another reason could be that both of these men are renowned for their fighting and masculinity; even though they dress in women’s clothing, it is easy to see that Achilles and Hercules are actually men—not women—with ripped muscles and hyper-masculine, idealized forms.

Both the man and woman are portrayed positively in the marble statue group. Silberberg-Pierce discusses that Roman art conveys a positive portrayal of women in paintings, writing that “[t]his model can profitably be applied to all Roman art production: it represents a woman’s view, one which, until recently, has been effectively suppressed.”[7] This work is a sculpture and not a painting but still depicts women, specifically Omphale, positively. Hercules and Omphale are quite close to being the same height, which suggests a type of equality, since one is neither higher nor superior over the other. Standing quite close together, Omphale’s arm wraps around Hercules with her left hand on his shoulder in a posture of consultation and mutual admiration.

Additionally, she is confident in her sexuality and in her strength. The viewer sees Omphale looks towards Hercules, who gazes off into the distance, as their bodies appear to be melding into one. Because of the mirroring poses and touch between each other, they are shown as a unified couple, and no hierarchy of one being greater than the other is suggested. Rather that suggesting a power play dynamic here, the couple looks supportive and united because despite their separate parts, their concord and union exhibits Beauty.

Fresco
This section addresses another medium—frescos—depicting Hercules and Omphale. During the Imperial Roman period from 27 BC to AD 284, a portrayal of Hercules and Omphale was painted in a basilica in Pompeii, which is now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli in Naples, Italy (Fig. 4).

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Figure 4. Hercules and Omphale, Pompeii, 27 BC–AD 284.

The viewers see Hercules standing before Omphale, shown as an enthroned, regal queen with a laurel-wreath crown. Nike, the winged goddess representing victory, is shown floating above him. Additionally, a small boy, which could represent the god Pan, holds pipes and stands behind Omphale. There are an eagle and a lion on either side of Hercules. In the left-hand corner, the viewers see Hercules’ son, Telephos, who is sucking on a doe.[8] This depiction contrasts greatly with the previous two examples examined in the sculpture section.

This portrayal presents a power dynamic between Hercules and Omphale. Omphale sits above him powerfully and looks off into the distance while placing her hands on her face with a contemplative look, as if considering the tasks that she will require of him. Therefore, this scene foreshadows the task of cross-dressing that will later take place because of the lion in the bottom right-hand corner (e.g., since Omphale will wear the lion skin that Hercules had killed) and the imbalanced power of master versus slave.

His shame is evident and reflects the fact that he will soon have to wear women’s clothing as part of his atonement for killing his friend, since he must obey whatever she orders. There is no freedom or liberation for Hercules, and Omphale’s gaze suggests one of independence and supremacy. In contrast to Omphale’s dominance, Hercules looks down in shame rather than looking Omphale in the eyes, which contrasts to the statue of the couple. His backside is exposed, revealing round buttocks and muscular back, arms, and legs.

Eve D’Ambra argues that male full-frontal nudity “appears active and aggressive” when compared to the modest nude of Venus; however, male nudity here does not exude confidence or “personal agency” for Hercules, perhaps because it does not depict full-frontal nudity.[9] Therefore, if male nudity suggests aggression, then female nudity would be considered passive or less active because the Venus figure is not always completely nude but tries to cover herself partly in order to be considered beautiful.

By being clothed, Omphale could be seen as taking on a more active role. Another reason could be reflective of female responses to prostitution in Pompeii because immodesty was associated with prostitution. Women, who were wealthy and belonged to the upper classes, actively exhorted for a return to propriety and written engravings even appeared on the walls of the Triclinia in Pompeii.[10] While impositions of enforced morality may seem strange to modern viewers, it still presents active and involved women in Pompeii, which is reflective of the active, strong depiction of Omphale.

This portrayal shows an exception to Roman Beauty because of how this strong, powerful-looking woman still follows a very classical style, such as how the drapery rests against Omphale’s body. The viewer sees the suggestion of her body underneath, the shading on the arms and her face, and the perspective of the three-quarter view of her serene, goddess-like face. The individual parts independently all have Beauty with the idealized parts contributing to Beautiful, idealized figures of the whole, even though the scene or event may seem somewhat mismatched, such as the male being naked and exposed before the woman.

Another fresco in Pompeii depicting Hercules and Omphale dates from the first century BCE, now located in Naples at the National Archaeological Museum (Fig. 5). In this depiction, Omphale holds a leaf-fan and looks down at Hercules with a mystified expression on her face. Hercules is already wearing the woman’s dress with a wreath on his head, reclining drunkenly with one of his arms in the air.[11] Hercules’ strange depiction could explain the puzzled expressions on the women’s faces.

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Figure 5. Fresco of Hercules and Omphale, Pompeii, first century BCE.

Surprisingly, while Hercules already wears the women’s clothing, Omphale is still wearing her own feminine clothing and not Hercules’. Perhaps one reason this portrayal is shown this way could emphasize the humor of the event. Hercules is not ashamed but rather inebriated and acting and looking ridiculous, while Omphale maintains her dignity. Omphale is placed at a higher level, emphasizing her position of power and her sober status, rather than having them on the same plane. Another reason for this portrayal could be showing why Omphale decided to dress in male clothing. The viewers see the putti figures attempting to lift the heavy club of Hercules up to the level where Omphale is sitting. Hercules is reduced to a comical, lower level by dressing in women’s clothing, but Omphale will be empowered even more by dressing in his clothing because it shows her strength and grandeur. Although the four putti figures can barely lift the club, but she will not only carry the club but also wear the heavy lion skin.

In this fresco, Omphale is not alone or only with Hercules but has female companions. The tunic slips off her Omphale’s shoulder, similar to Venus, as seen with the marble statue group of Hercules and Omphale; however, with that statue, it was Hercules’ shoulder that was exposed from the women’s clothing slipping off on that side. Yellow and greyish-purple tones mark Omphale’s clothing. On her sides, Omphale not alone here but surrounded by two young girls. The one maiden on Omphale’s left also mimics her queen, since her shoulder is also bare, and she wears white. This girl is much smaller than Omphale, although it is unclear whether or not she is supposed to be younger or the same age.

On the other side, the maiden on Omphale’s right holds her hand up to her face and looks with a quizzical expression on her face. Her clothing is in nude and green colors, and her navel is visible through the transparent clothing. This maiden is taller than the other one, but her proportions are strange and curved, making her appear serpentine instead of human. In contrast, Omphale appears to have the best proportions and follows the classical style the most with natural drapery and goddess-like elegance and beauty.

The women’s appearances emphasize Pompeii standards of beauty. Their hair is piled up on top of their heads. Roman women used hairpins, typically made out of bone, ivory, glass, gold, or silver, to style their hair, which were described as being tapered at the end (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7).

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Figure 6. Hairpin, Pompeii, from house 1.12.5, 10 centimeters, first century AD.

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Figure 7. Hairpin, Pompeii, from house 1.12.6, 10.5 centimeters, first century AD.

For hairdressing, hairpins were also used to separate locks and to pin up and hold the hair in place once the style was completed, and these devices could range from simple to elaborate. Because hairpins are not often shown in depictions, it is believed that Roman women typically preferred the pins to be unseen and hid them in their hair. In this fresco, little white, shiny dots are seen in the women’s hair, which would suggest a decorated end of the pin.[12] These hairpins were the most common way of adorning hair in Pompeii.[13]

All three women wear gold necklaces and bracelets and earrings that appear to have pearls, which was considered precious in Pompeii. Ancient sources called the S-shaped hook with the pearl pendants as stalagmium, which had precedents from the Hellenistic Grecian period (Fig. 8).

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Figure 8. Earrings in gold and mother-of-pearl, Villa of Crassius, Teritus, Oplontis, date unknown.

This style continued until the third century AD—well after Pompeii was destroyed.[14] In Western society, we often associate jewelry with femininity, so it is interesting that Omphale wears not only her feminine clothing but also jewelry, which emphasizes her femininity instead of when she cross dresses and takes on the masculine role. In the previous section with the sculptures, no jewelry or hair accessories were shown, which presents something unique here that reflects Pompeii beauty practices and emphasis on the feminine beauty in contrast to other Roman women.

Mosaic
The labors of Hercules are frequently depicted in Greek and Roman art, but this section on mosaic will examine a depiction of Hercules with Omphale in the center of a floor mosaic found in Llíria (i.e., Valencia), which is now in the National Archeological Museum of Spain in Madrid (Fig. 9).[15]

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Figure 9. Twelve Labors of Hercules, Llíria (Valencia), Spain, third century AD.

Spain was part of the Roman empire at this time of the third century AD. Figure 10 shows a close up of the mosaic, and Hercules is shown holding a ball of wool and dressed in women’s clothing; although most of the dress is damaged, the bottom reveals different colors of blue limestone that represent the dress. Omphale wears the lion skin, which is difficult to tell, except for the two pointy ears sticking out. She holds the olive-wood club of Hercules, as well, while reclining on a throne, which had been damaged with several tiles missing.

The figures are not proportionate because if Omphale stood up, she would be considerably taller than Hercules. Additionally, there appears to be drapery of sorts covering the bottom half of her body, but her breasts and navel are uncovered. The bubble-looking object in Omphale’s right hand is unknown. In this mosaic, no setting is shown with white and cream-colored tiles being the only background. The piece is more abstract than the sculptures and frescos; for example, Omphale’s fingers as rows of brown and white tiles.

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Figure 10. Central panel showing Hercules and Omphale from the mosaic of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, Llíria (Valencia), Spain, third century AD.

Facial expressions are difficult to determine, given the nature of mosaic tiles and the relative level of abstraction here, making it impossible to determine whether, for instance, Hercules is embarrassed or Omphale is empowered. Their direct gaze towards each other is at the same level, suggesting a type of equality. This mosaic shows the cross-dressing of both Hercules and Omphale together at the same time, which marks ambiguities concerning gender roles in Roman society. Because of the abstraction, the psychological and emotional impact on both of this change in roles and clothing is indeterminable, making this mosaic unique when compared to the sculpture and fresco examples.

Conclusion
This paper has considered various representations of Hercules and Omphale in mediums, such as sculpture, fresco, and mosaic. Sometimes only Omphale or Hercules is portrayed or only one cross dresses. A strength of sculpture is that the viewers are able to walk around and examine the work from multiple angles, while mosaic and fresco present only one perspective. However, for fresco, it is easier to present more of the narrative, multiple figures, and setting, which is how the viewers understand more of what is happening in the story. In contrast, the mosaic appears to be the most limited, given the damages and abstraction. These mediums reveal what is emphasized in Roman aesthetics, not only the ideal versus the real, but also the representation of interactions between men and women. Sculpture presents strong, powerful women as having Beauty, while the mosaics focus on feminine beauty for Omphale. However, Omphale is depicted as serious when wearing Hercules’ clothing, while Hercules is humorous to look at or looks preposterous when wearing women’s clothing.

Plotinus believed that if the whole is considered Beautiful, the parts must also be beautiful because the whole could not be made of ugly parts; hence, the masculine parts of women and feminine parts of men—often shown by clothing—are not actually ugly but have Beauty because the whole is beautiful. These depictions justify representing women in masculine clothing, which presents a less rigid view of gender and gender relationships recognized in contemporary Roman society.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brilliant, Richard. Visual Narratives: Storytelling in Etruscan and Roman Art. London: Cornell University Press, 1984.

D’Ambra, Eve. Roman Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

D’Ambrosio, Antonio. Women and Beauty in Pompeii. Trans. Gram Sells. Naples:<<L’erma>> di Bretschneider, 2001.

D’Avino, Michele. The Women of Pompeii. Trans. Monica Hope Jones and Luigi Nusco. Napoli: NA, NA.

“F26.1 Herkales & Omphale.” Theoi. Accessed February 18, 2016. http://www.theoi.com/Gallery/F26.1.html.

Fantham, Elaine, Helen Peet Foley, Natalie Boymel Kampen, Sarah B. Pomeroy, and H. A. Shapiro. Women in the Classical World: Image and Text. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Kleiner, Diana E. E. and Susan B. Matheson. “‘Her Parents Gave Her the Name Claudia.’” Claudia II: Women in Roman Art and Society. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.

Koortbojian, Michael. Myth, Meaning, and Memory on Roman Sarcophagi. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

McManus, Barbara F. “Index of Images, Part XIV.” Vroma. Accessed February 15, 2016, http://www.vroma.org/images/mcmanus_images/index14.html.

Pomarède, Vincent. “Hercules and Omphale.” Department of Paintings: French painting.

Louvre Museum. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/hercules-and-omphale.

Ravasi, Thea. “Displaying Sculpture in Rome.” A Companion to Ancient Aesthetics. Eds. Pierre Destrée and Penelope Murray. Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.

Silberberg-Pierce, Susan. “The Muse Restored: Images of Women in Roman Painting.” Woman’s Art Journal 14 (1993): 28–36.

Tertullian. De Pallio. Ed. Vincent Hunink. Tertullian website (2005). Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.tertullian.org/articles/hunink_de_pallio.htm.

Tuck, Steven L. A History of Roman Art. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.

ENDNOTES

[1] Diana E. E. Kleiner and Susan B. Matheson, “‘Her Parents Gave Her the Name Claudia,’” I Claudia II: Women in Roman Art and Society, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 11.

[2] For example, Augustus’s wife, Livia, wore her way in order to contrast to their Egyptian enemy Cleopatra and her intricate hairstyle because Livia sought to promote simple Roman values and morality and Roman-ness. See ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 12.

[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Barbara F. McManus, “Index of Images, Part XIV,” Vroma, accessed February 15, 2016, http://www.vroma.org/images/mcmanus_images/index14.html.

[6] Like Achilles, Hercules is often shown on Roman sarcophagi. One of the most renowned myths, of Hercules retrieving Alcestis, is commonly depicted. See Michael Koortbojian, Myth, Meaning, and Memory on Roman Sarcophagi, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) 112. Another example of Hercules depicted on Roman sarcophagi includes the Velletri sarcophagus. See Steven L. Tuck, A History of Roman Art, (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015) 264.

[7] Susan Silberberg-Pierce, “The Muse Restored: Images of Women in Roman Painting,” Woman’s Art Journal 14 (1993), 35.

[8] “F26.1 Herkales & Omphale,” Theoi, accessed February 18, 2016, http://www.theoi.com/Gallery/F26.1.html.

[9] Eve D’Ambra, Roman Art, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 109.

[10] Michele D’Avino, The Women of Pompeii, translated by Monica Hope Jones and Luigi Nusco, (Napoli: NA, NA) 72.

[11] Barbara F. McManus, “Index of Images, Part XIV,” Vroma, accessed February 15, 2016, http://www.vroma.org/images/mcmanus_images/index14.html.

[12] Antonio D’Ambrosio, Women and Beauty in Pompeii, translated by Gram Sells, (Naples: <<L’erma>> di Bretschneider, 2001) 16.

[13] Ibid., 38.

[14] Ibid., 40.

[15] The Twelve Labors of Hercules is shown on the metopes of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. See Richard Brilliant, Visual Narratives: Storytelling in Etruscan and Roman Art, (London: Cornell University Press, 1984) 37. On the Roman Velletri sarcophagus, Hercules is shown performing the twelve labors. See Steven L. Tuck, A History of Roman Art, (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015) 264.

A Postcolonial Analysis of Carmen Herrera’s Untitled (c. 2012)

Near the end of the twentieth century, revisions concerning postcolonial theories of Said and Nochlin occurred. Rather than focusing on strict binaries, theorists considered that issues of postcolonialism were more complicated because the colonial experience is not only complex but also ambiguous. The colonized and the colonizer were plays in various locations—psychological, philosophical, geographical, social, political, and economic—and these theorists desired to examine the space in between the colonized and colonizer. This paper will provide a postcolonial analysis of Carmen Herrera’s Untitled (c. 2012), using the theories of Homi Bhaba, Gaytri Chakravorty Spivak, and David Carven to reveal the hybridity that occurs in this piece of art.

Figure 1. Carmen Herrera, Untitled, c. 2012, acrylic and pencil on paper, 50 x 70 cm.

Homi Bhaba wrote “Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse” in 1984, which focused on mimicry, or how the colonized are compelled to imitate the colonizer through language, religion, and so forth in order to be considered civilized. Bhaba believes that there is a place of empowerment for the colonized—to talk back or to mimic—which becomes a form of mockery. For Bhaba, he wants us to consider what it means for both parties, the colonized and the colonizer, to exhibit mimicry. Carmen Herrera’s Untitled (c. 2012) shows this mimicry happening. The painting has strong diagonal lines, creating a dynamic, exciting work to look at. The bottom left is red, while the other half is crisp white. The strong diagonal line does not meet at opposite corners but slightly before, which creates a balancing type of effect. Then we see two rectangular shapes in the center of the painting, both interrupting the blocks of color; on the white area, there is a prominent red box, and on the red area, a white box appears. It looks like cut outs—a cookie cut out—and then the reversal of colors in their respective areas. However, the blocks still connect, making the line continue on, otherwise uninterrupted.

This painting has a Bhaban influence of mimicry. Here each colored area could represent the colonizer and the colonized. Each box mimics the other, just as the colonized mimics the colonizer and vice versa. Yet each can never fully become the other, which is why there is no pink in the painting or the boxes. The colonized can never truly be white because of their skin color; similarly, the colonizer can never be fully native because of their Western traditions, religion, birth, etc.

Gaytri Chakravorty Spivak, an Indian theorist, wrote “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in 1988, which is one of the most popular essays in postcolonial readings. The subaltern is inferior and the colonizer cannot even imagine the subaltern existing or acknowledge them as a discrete, autonomous entity. She uses a geographical metaphor here and has an Indian perspective because of the Indian social castes and the specific expectations of how to conduct life for each caste. Spivak wonders if there is any way for the subaltern to be heard or if they can make a difference if the subaltern are not acknowledged, are not cohesive, are scattered and fragmentary, and do not have a social, political, or economic presence. Therefore, if the subaltern has no history, then they cannot speak. The way of being in the West includes a history—something visible or written—which in turn creates identity. Because Westerners have a history, then they can be acknowledged and heard. Yet so many of these subaltern peoples do not become registered because they lack the forms and abilities of visibility that Westerners claim are necessary to be seen and heard.

In this painting, there is tension between the red and the white blocks. If the red area represented the subaltern, the red block could represent a section of that society who wished to be heard and acknowledged. However, as mentioned before, there is no pink in this painting; if there were any pink, then we could assume that the subaltern was heard and acknowledged. Instead, the red is isolated and alone, continuing in its in-acknowledgment. Additionally, the painting is outlines with a gray line; there continues to be white surrounding the painting and then the frame. This suggests that the subaltern (i.e., the red area) could be ignored because it is surrounded and overlooked by the colonizers (i.e., the white areas). Yet the red actually stands out in this painting, and even though the colonizers can attempt to ignore the subaltern, the colonized can still find a voice and demand to be heard.

David Carven, an art historian, wrote about Pollock and Abstract Expressionism, which was seen as the great, American movement. Yet Carven saw this as problematic because the First Nation People were not acknowledged and neither was their art. If Native American art is acknowledged, it is re-colonized or re-appropriated. Additionally, Carven found the focus on the very closed-knit circle of male, heteronormative, white men based in New York problematic, since it did not recognize the international element of this movement, which occurred in South American and other places. This movement was much more global than we acknowledge, yet we continue to only focus on those artists and the cannon that we have formed. The movements themselves and the way that we define these movements shows colonialism. Carmen Herrara was largely ignored during her life time and now, over 100 years old, she is finally receiving recognition.

Herrara’s obscurity as a painter has been the case for most of her life. She is a Cuban-American artist who also lived in Paris, which shows hybridity. She trained at New York’s Art Students League and would later have exhibitions at four different times at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris from 1949 to 1953. In 1954, she moved to New York, where she continues to live and work today. She has works in the following collections and museums: Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Tate Collection, London; the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC; The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. In the article “Carmen Herrera on Her Centennial,” published 19 November 2015, it reads, “Herrera’s body of work has established, quietly but steadily, a cross-cultural dialogue within the international history of modernist abstraction.” Despite her successes, she is finally receiving recognition. Herrera, as an artist, could represent the subaltern, or even a hybrid of Cuban and American cultures, who is finally being heard.

The artist, Carmen Herrera, shown here.

A Psychocritical Analysis of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Door with Snow

Georgia O’Keeffe is well known for her paintings of zoomed-in, detailed flowers. Often these paintings are compared to vaginas, which would lead towards an easy analysis for a psychocritical analysis of the artist and her work. However, this paper will present a psychocritical analysis on O’Keeffe’s Black Door with Snow, which was created in 1955, using the concepts of the Neo-Freudian Karen Danielsen Horney. This painting enables the viewers to have a male perspective and better understand the concept of “womb envy,” thus enabling us to see the Western social and cultural constructs of male psyche.

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Georgia O’Keeffe is shown here.

Horney, who lived from 16 September 1885 until 4 December 1952, was a German Neo-Freudian. This Neo-Freudian discipline was formed by Alfred Adler and Horney together, although Horney is often overlooked. She practiced in the United States of America later on in her career and presented theories which questioned Freud’s theories. Horney, one of the first psychiatrists who was female, founded the feminist psychology in response to Freud’s patriarchal theory and disagreed with Freud, arguing that differences in psychology among men and women occur because of society and culture instead of biology.

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Here is a photograph of Karen Danielsen Horney.

Horney believed that sex and aggression were not the main ingredients in creating personality. Horney disagreed with Freud’s concept of “penis envy,” arguing that Freud only figured that women were jealous of male power in the world. Neurotic women might desire to have penises, but Horney introduces the idea of “womb envy”—that men are envious of women’s ability to bear children. Additionally, she argues that men are envious of women because women are able to “fulfill” their role in society by simply “being,” since women can become pregnant and give birth. In contrast, men must look externally to satisfy their need to be productive, and men think they must achieve manhood through the ability to provide and succeed. The focus on the male sexual organ was puzzling to Horney. For her, men were envious of pregnancy, nursing, and motherhood, which led to men making claims of superiority in other areas of life, specifically the workforce. Therefore, by reformulating Freudian thought, Horney presents a more humanist perspective on the human psyche, emphasizing on social and cultural differences.

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Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Door with Snow, 1955.

Black Door with Snow is beautifully painted with neutral colors. The sharp diagonal lines in the painting add drama to the piece. A deeply tan wall stands bare and unadorned, and in the top left hand corner, we see a glimpse of a grey sky. Perhaps we, the viewers, are walking towards the house, looking to the opening from the side rather from directly in the front. This wall is both protective as well as inviting, drawing the viewers towards the entrance of the black doorframe. What stands out on this austere exterior are the snowflakes. As a female artist of New Mexico, it seems strange that she chose to depict snow. These snowflakes do not appear to be real snow but rather dabs of abstraction. Instead, they look more like falling white flowers or tissues from an unknown source. Interestingly, the snowflakes on or close to the ground are not white but rather a pink shade, which are next to the orange-red of the stones before the door.

This painting could be representative of womb envy, or the envious feelings that men feel towards women’s ability to create life. The tan wall looks almost like smooth skin, perhaps both sides of the legs spreading open for the black entrance, becoming symbolic of the vagina. Because we do not see the entrance directly but from an angle, perhaps we are experiencing the male gaze and perspective. Men, for Horney, experience womb envy, yet patriarchal society has many misconceptions and taboos about female anatomy. We see a sharp binary between the white—of the snowflakes—and the black—of the doorframe/vagina. In our Western patriarchal society, men and women are often seen as binaries, thus suggesting the black as women (represented by the female anatomy) and white as men (represented by a whole instead of a part, as with the women here). This is not a sexual depiction, and there are no phallic symbols here. Instead, although men may enter the vagina during sexual intercourse and be a part of the woman, this is only momentarily. Men never truly experience what is like to have a vagina or give birth. Just as the snowflakes stay out of the house so do men stay separated from women biologically because men lack vaginas and cannot experience pregnancy and birth. As a result, tension arises from this lacking, which is portrayed through the strong diagonal lines. Because women have their roles biologically assigned internally, men feel the need to search for purpose externally, reinforced by the painting of the snow remaining on the outside.

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Western women can be labeled derogatorily based on their anatomy, and female anatomy is sometimes considered ugly or less developed in Western society. The splotches of color before the doorframe are pink, orange, and red, which could be connected with menstruation. A woman’s monthly bleeding occurs when the lining of the uterus or womb is shed. The menstrual blood passes through the cervix and out of the body through the vagina. On heavier days, the color is more red, while on lighter days, the color is pink. Sometimes menstrual fluid, which is often referred to as blood, is sometimes a darker color, black or brown, which means that the blood is flowing out of the body at a slower rate. This change in color is normal. However, menstrual fluids can sometimes be orange, which means that the bright red menstrual blood becomes mixed with fluids from the cervix; as a result of this mixture, the menstrual blood appears orange with red streaks, and this color can be associated with infections and should be inspected by a doctor.

Although men may experience womb envy, they may not actually fully comprehend the responsibilities and associations that happen with having female anatomy. Additionally, men are commonly disgusted with the mere mention of menstruation, let alone the actual fact that it occurs naturally with most women. The orange splotches could represent a disease—here meaning the widespread problems with Western men and how they talk about and try to control female bodies. Something here is strange: How do we account for the pink snowflakes on the ground? Perhaps these pink spots are representative of men, who may still have womb envy, but are tolerant and even understanding of female anatomy and its natural processes. Rather than dismissing women and their problems with menstruation, men can potentially be sympathetic with biological differences and what occurs naturally, even if men do not have vaginas. If sympathy is possible, this tolerance can be extended to other areas of gender inequality, presenting a societal construct that can be changed rather than a biological stagnation.

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Foucault and Power

Michel Foucault considers the subtle, influential power over everything and how power is consolidated and expressed. The power of language—verbal or visual—is critical. Reason not only controls but also puts the productivity in power. Foucault suggests the quest for truth is neither completely disinterested nor isolated. Truth becomes part of a network, suggesting the encouragement of questions to be asked.

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Michel Foucault

In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), Foucault discusses the prison system and Panopticism, where there are guards in the center tower and prisoners who do not know when they are being watched. The Panopticon, which is a system as well as an architectural building, becomes an important metaphor about discipline, punishment, and all-seeing power. This example of the Panopticon “is the disciplinary form at its most extreme, the model in which are concentrated all the coercive technologies of behavior” (Foucault 1490). Therefore, no guard would need to be in the tower because the possibility of being watched would be in the minds of the prisoners, who are isolated, alienated, and exposed. It is the potentiality of being surveyed and watched that is emphasized here.

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The Panopticon

Foucault argues that this model can be used for other institutions (e.g., the government, technology, the internet) or applied to anyone who needs to be watched or handled. Vision is central because prisoners are (1) under the impression of constantly being watched, but they are also (2) a part of being involved with spectacle. This display, performance, or show is spectacle. In societies, there is the potential to be looked at as well as the potential to look. However, it should be noted that surveillance and spectacle become more and more meshed in contemporary society.

There is a shift in the basis of power from Marx to Foucault. For Marxists, economics is the foundation that is determinant of everything else in culture. For Foucault, economics has no priority; no single discourse exists among human. Therefore, we go from a base and superstructure model to discourse as a basis of everything. Foucault thought about prisons, sexual activity, schools, religion (e.g., the confessional), medicine, and politics, expanding what could be included in discourse. Literature and art could become another discourse, but they do not necessarily become a separate aesthetic realm, for Foucault.

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The Prisoner

With Foucault’s analysis of discourse, the subject of the novel or art can fit into the discussion of discourse. It is not just an intellectual field of power that shapes subjectivity. Viewers realize that literature and art shape who we are; therefore, we see literature and art not only as artistic expression or entertainment but also as a social or political work. Foucault’s emphasis on the plurality of discourse could lead to the following question: what new discourses could the future hold? His cultural criticism and theories have changed the way readers and viewers see the world and consider their lives within the societal structures they are born into.

Tuesday Tunes: “Tyler” by The Toadies


 

Lyrics:

And she runs through her days with a smile on her face
And she runs, and she waits, and I wait

We can drive to any place, day or night, across the state
And in the morning, into Mexico, we will wake up

I find a window in the kitchen, and I let myself in
Rummage through the refrigerator, find myself a beer
I can’t believe I’m really here, and she’s lying in that bed
I can almost feel her touch, and her anxious breath!

I stumble in the hallway, outside the bedroom door
I hear her call out to me, I hear the fear in her voice
She pulls the covers tighter, I press against the door

I will be with her tonight!

A Formalist Analysis of Mary Cassatt’s Five O’clock Tea

Mary Cassatt is famous for her portrayals of mothers with their children, but this oil painting, Five O’clock Tea (c. 1880), depicts two women sitting together with no children in sight. One woman sips out of a porcelain cup, delicately raising her pinky finger and holding the saucer with her other hand. The woman on the other side sits close by on the same sofa, hand on chin in the thinking position, similar to Rodin’s The Thinker. Her cup and saucer is placed back on the tray before the two. The room is snug, with the sofa, table, mantelpiece, and wallpaper all close together, reinforcing the closeness of the two women who appear to be friends. By focusing on the form of this artwork, a brief formal analysis of Mary Cassatt’s Five O’clock Tea reveals the importance of female companionship and friendship through the use of the following five formal properties presented by Heinrich Wölfflin: (1) “painterly,” (2) “recession,” (3) “open,” (4) “unity,” and (5) “relative clarity.”

First, this piece is quite painterly, especially when analyzing the sofa design. Rather than having delineated firm outlines, there is greater emphasis on the atmospheric, shifting appearances seen in the artwork. Not much of the sofa is viewable, but what is seen reveals coral splashes of flower-like entities on a cream-colored surface. These flowers are not sharply outline but rather present a fluid, natural movement, even though they are not out in nature but inside, perhaps embroidered or printed, on a sofa. However, this painterly style encircles the women, bringing them seemingly closer together.

Second, rather than presenting a planar composition, this artwork is recessional. The order of the piece is not parallel; instead, the viewers are pulled into the background. The eyes follow the slopping shoulder and roundness of the arm towards the table, then to the shiny teapot and tray, then back towards the mantelpiece and framed artwork, and finally to the striped wallpaper. The viewers’ gaze zigzags while looking at the picture space into the back rather than analyzing the painting side-to-side. The viewers start with the woman on the left and end with the woman sitting on the right, emphasizing the central focus of this piece on the two friends and their connection.

Third, an open form, relating to how the artwork is framed and placed in relation to the viewer, is shown. No clear spatial indicators are here because the women are not specifically defined before the viewer. There is no clear delineation of lines and the rectangular shape of the picture. Instead the table creates a slanting diagonal line, while the woman’s arm creates another diagonal line in the opposite direction. The woman sipping her tea is believed to be further away from the viewer, while the contemplative woman’s elbow is foreshortened, as if protruding out into the viewers’ space. Therefore, this piece is composed more ambiguously and opens to enable the viewers to have different positions of perspective.

Fourth, Five O’clock Tea presents unity rather than multiplicity. Here the viewers do not see multiple unified forms that are separate and distinct. Instead the viewers experience “the whole as a whole” (Wölfflin 169). Taking away one figure or item from the piece would make the piece not unified but rather incomplete. The piece would become incomplete without the the teapot or the second cup and saucer on the table. Additionally, the piece would be incomplete without both women, suggesting the significance of depicting these women as friends instead of isolated individuals.

Fifth, Cassatt uses relative clarity in this painting because she uses painterly techniques for their own atmospheric effect instead of using optical effects to present a specific subject (Hatt and Klonk 80). Cassatt does not care about material illusion. The viewers are not confused into thinking that it is a real vase or real picture frame but rather mimetic imitations. On the wall, the horizontal stripes are not perfectly segregated but vary in width between one another. However, Cassatt does employ changes in color, which capture light reflections, for example, bouncing off the teapot and tray. Additionally, she employs juxtapositions in tone, contrasting the coral of the horizontal stripped wallpaper and flowered sofa with the darker browns, blacks, and greys of the women’s dresses. The tone of the surroundings is more bright and jovial, while the women’s darker clothing presents a more serious, contemplative tone and reiterate the connection between the two friends.

In conclusion, the familiarity of the women together with their surroundings reveals the central focus of this piece of art—female companionship. The title of the painting, Five O’clock Tea, could suggest the banality of daily living. This piece is neither a religious nor a historical painting, and the women are not royalty or nobility. However, the closeness of the two figures in relation to the room emphasizes the need for female companionship—especially in modern society. Although neither woman is breathtakingly beautiful, the formal elements of the painting connect the viewer with the two regular-looking friends, suggesting the potential to look past the superficial and to consider the deeper human connections in life.

FIGURE

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Figure 1. Mary Cassatt, Five O’clock Tea, 1880, oil on canvas.

Tuesday Tunes: Bette Midler’s “Stuff Like That There”

This hoppin’ & boppin’ tune is from the incredible movie For the Boys, a powerful movie about life and the effects of war. Bette Midler is basically flawless.❤

Enjoy!


lyrics:

I was alone on a shelf
in a world by myself.
Oh, where could my Prince Charming be?
But a man came along,
made my life like a song,
and taught me these words of ecstasy,
tenderly.

I want some huggin’ and some squeezin’
and some muggin’ and some teasin’
and some stuff like that there.
I want some pettin’ and some spoonin’
and some happy honeymoonin’
and some stuff like that there.

I used to think that love
was just a lot o’ rubbish;
a mess o’ cabbage, a mess o’ cabbage.
But now my attitude
is wholly lovey dovish,
and baby, you, you’ve done it!

I want some kissin’ and some hopin’
and some missin’ and some mopin’
and some stuff like that there.
I want some leapin’ and some chasin’
and some weepin’ and some pacin’
and some stuff like that there.

And when I get a certain feelin’ I confess it.
There’s really only one expression to express it.
I want some huggin’ and some squeezin’
and some muggin’ and some teasin’
and some leapin’ and some chasin’
and some weepin’ and some pacin’
and some stuff,
I want some stuff like that there.

I used to think romance was bunk,
a double mickey for the ickey.
But all at once my heart was sunk,
and baby, you, you done it!

I want some kissin’ and some hopin’
and some missin’ and some mopin’
and some stuff like that there.
I want some leapin’ and some chasin’
and some weepin’ and some pacin’
and some stuff like that there.

And when I get a certain feelin’ I confess it.
There’s really only one expression to express it.
I want some huggin’, squeezin’,
muggin’, teasin’ and some stuff,
stuff like that there!
Oooooooooh!

Free Printable: February 2016 Visiting Teaching Message

The visiting teaching message for February 2016 is “Marriage is Ordained of God.”

Here is a portion of the lesson:

Prophets, apostles, and leaders continue to “solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that thefamily is central to the Creator’s plan.”1

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “A family built on the marriage of a man and woman supplies the best setting for God’s plan to thrive. …

“… Neither we nor any other mortal can alter this divine order of matrimony.”2

Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, said: “Everyone, no matter what their marital circumstance or number of children, can be defenders of the Lord’s plan described in the family proclamation. If it is the Lord’s plan, it should also be our plan!”3

Elder Christofferson continued: “Some of you are denied the blessing of marriage for reasons including a lack of viable prospects, same-sex attraction, physical or mental impairments, or simply a fear of failure. … Or you may have married, but that marriage ended. … Some of you who are married cannot bear children. …

“Even so, … everyone can contribute to the unfolding of the divine plan in each generation.”4

Please feel free to download, retweet, reshare, etc.!

Enjoy,

the bbb blogger

Feb. 2015. VT. BBB BLOG