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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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.

Hegel—Abstract

Hegel was a German philosopher who lived from 1770 to 1831 and even today continues to influence discussions about aesthetics and art history. Despite his sometimes closed-minded judgments concerning art, he knew a remarkable amount about as well as a wide variety of art. The following paragraphs will examine Hegel’s dialectic and Geist theories.

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Hegel

First, Hegel believed in the dialectic. His theory “entails the confrontation of any thesis with its opposite (antithesis), and the resultant synthesis of the two through a process of ‘overcoming’” (Leitch 537). Therefore, there are two conflicts and then a compromise between the two; then there are two more conflicts and another compromise. This process continues onward, suggesting that Hegel’s theory stresses change.

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Second, Hegel was interested in the Geist, meaning Spirit. Hegel uses the terms Universal Spirit or Absolute Idea interchangeably. Thus, Hegel thinks platonically. The Idea is not only a concept but also its own embodiment in reality. This Idea is the blueprint for the world in realization, thus becoming what it was meant to be, but the Idea is also realized in expressions over time, since it is constantly occurring in history. The over spirit is constantly pushing the world towards this final Idea, and art plays an important role in this process and change. However, the Idea is not wholly Platonic because it occurs through a historical development.

How can we understand where humans are in this quest towards the Absolute Idea? We must look at the art of humanity across time. Art not only reflects where the artists are but also works towards the Absolute Idea. Therefore, art gives us evidence of progress in history and presents cultural expression. According to Hegel, art serves specific purposes, and in Aesthetics, he writes, “[I]t is the vocation of art to find for the spirit of a people the artistic expression corresponding to it” (603).

In each era, a particular category of art presents the most authentic form of expression and maximizes the possible journey with and towards the Idea. This process occurs not through individual artists but many artists following their way, which becomes part of the human experience of working towards the Idea. Thus, the individual artist becomes part of a larger process of change.

The Idea makes it possible for each era of art history to be distinct. Yet the Idea also makes it possible to show a connection between the diverse forms of artistic expression throughout time and various societies. Finally, the Idea provides the ability of progress and development. The past and the present become connected through artistic expression and the Idea driving it.

Birth of the Field of Art History

The birth of the field of art history is largely due to Winckelmann (1717–68), a German art historian called “The Father of Art History and Archaeology.” He was the first scholar to write a history of art rather than artist biographies and wrote The History of the Art of Antiquity, published in 1764. His book impacted the field of art history because Winckelmann redefined this field, contrasting the differences of ancient and modern cultures. Therefore, his text is seen as foundational during a time when art history was becoming an established discipline.

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Winckelmann

The objects he focuses on are Greek sculptures, which he molds as the cultural ideal and foundation of antiquity that seemed at odds with modern perspectives. As an eloquent writer, Winckelmann analyzes these ancient sculptures. Of course, he is a product of his time, reflecting the Enlightenment concern of the progress and decline in ancient and contemporary culture.

Winckelmann’s writing differs from earlier writings about ancient art. First, his writing is ambitious because he was concerned with art history in relation to external circumstances. His writing contributed to not only the wealthy buying masterpieces but also the less wealthy pilgrimaging for aesthetic education in Italy.

Second, his text emphasized on analyzing the visual and style. This approach would influence later art historians attempting to understand the aesthetic qualities of artworks depending on the social and cultural circumstances of the time when they were created. Winckelmann sought to distinguish true Greek art versus Roman and modern copies. However, now some of these are seen as Greco-Roman copies.

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Apollo Belvedere statue

For example, the Apollo Belvedere statue, claimed by Winckelmann to be the finest surviving examples of the Greek ideal, is actually Roman. Therefore, art of antiquity was seen as part of the history and the development of various styles.

Although Winckelmann stands out as a unique figure in the birth of the field of art history, other figures from 1650 through 1830 also impacted this emerging field. Fellow German scholar and writer Lessing also loved antiquity.

Lessing critiques Winckelmann’s analysis of the sculpture Laocoon and his sons created around 25 BCE and argues his own thoughts, which presents “entering the conversation” about a specific artwork from the beginning of art history. Although both Lessing and Winckelmann have Neoclassical and Platonic tendencies, their theories present unique German perspectives because of the events occurring in Germany and the country’s separate states. By looking back to antiquity, these German scholars paved the way for the future of art history as a field of study.

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Laocoon and his sons statue

Both Kant and Burke became central figures in the history of art during the Romantic period. Kant, a German philosopher, reflects the culmination of the debate of Beauty and Taste in the eighteenth century as well as the target for later perceptions of aesthetics. Kant’s concept of the artist genius—who could express, enrich, and communicate understanding and experience in such a way that normal discourse could not—would continue throughout the Romantic period. The Irish-born British statesman and writer Edmund Burke acknowledged the aesthetic value of art, which was based not from imitation or idealization alone but also from emotions. Also, he explored the sublime, the impressions of awe and how tranquility was shadowed with horror. As a result, Burke expanded the art cannon of what could be considered to have Beauty.

The Earl of Shaftsbury, Reynolds, and Diderot influenced the birth of the history of art, as well. As the “Father of Aesthetics,” the Earl of Shaftsbury considered aesthetics as a separate branch of human experience that presented an interrelationship of morality and beauty. He believed that the development of an interest in fine arts would result in the improvement of the general level of British morality and politeness. Therefore, in order to develop interest in art, creating a history of art would be necessary.

Reynolds argued that studying great ancient art was more important than natural talent. Once again, in order to study art from the past, a history of art would be needed.

Lastly, from 1759 to 1781, Diderot wrote critical writings about the Salon exhibitions organized by the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. In his writings, Diderot takes his reader beyond mere description and judgment in order to discuss art as well as truth, nature, and morality. Thus, Diderot’s writings present a study of art, its history, and the questions that we continue to ask today.

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Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture

Various Meanings and Representations of the the Virgin Eleousa During the Byzantine Empire

There are multiple representations and titles of Mary, the mother of Christ. Such representations include the Hodegetria (i.e., the one who shows the way), the Regina angelorum (i.e., a regal Virgin Mary accompanied by angels),[1] and the Virgin Eleousa (i.e., tenderness or mercy), in which she is shown holding the Christ child and pressing her cheek against his. While drawing attention to her son, the two become cocooned in a reciprocal, cherished bond of love between mother and son.[2]

The title of Eleousa uniquely describes Mary’s qualities rather than merely stating an action or an event. While this title differs from the others, people interpreted the meaning of this icon in various ways during the Byzantine era. Some of these meanings included the Virgin Eleousa icon as the mother of God; as the mother to all humanity; as a figure foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ; as a sorrowful mother at Christ’s death; and as an advocate or intercessor. Additionally, Eleousa with St. Stephen represented the triumph over iconoclasm, and Eleousa with symbolic stars represented Mary’s virginity and relation to the Trinity. This paper focuses on the importance of the Virgin Eleousa in Byzantine society; even though Mary was viewed politically as a protector of the capital, the Virgin Eleousa was venerated by religious leaders and citizens of the empire because the icon represented her tender, merciful side with which people connected.

Eleousa as spiritual protector of Constantinople
Constantinople, also known as “Queen of Cities,” was the religious and political center of the Byzantine empire.[3] The state regulated the production of art rather than art being controlled by artistic guilds, suggesting that art could work for nationalistic purposes. Additionally, Christian images were even considered powerful because, according to various accounts, art could supposedly heal viewers who were sick, protect those in need, and even hurt those who mocked it.[4] Therefore, Byzantine art, most often being controlled by the state or wealthy patrons in the capital, influenced how the viewer perceived the power of Christianity as well as the empire.

Figure 1. The Virgin Glykophilousa, Triglia, Bithynia, thirteenth century.

Figure 1. The Virgin Glykophilousa, Triglia, Bithynia, thirteenth century.

The leaders of Constantinople adopted a woman, Mary, as the protector of the city,[5] and military leaders devoted themselves to her for protection from intruding armies. Alexios I Comnenos, who was devoted to the Virgin, is told to have waited to fight against the Norman invaders because he wanted to see Mary appear at the Church of the Virgin Blachernai before going into battle.[6] Coming from the same iconographic tradition, Virgin Glykophilousa is similar with the Eleousa type, just with different names that mean “sweet-loving” or “merciful” Mary, in that order (Fig. 1).

[7] The inscription on the icon Virgin Glykophilousa reads ΜΗ(ΤΗ)Ρ Θ(ΕΟ)Υ Η ΕΠΙCΚΕΨΙC, which essentially stresses Mary’s role as protector of the people.[8] Hence, the Virgin was not only a political protector of Constantinople but also an important religious figure.

Eleousa as Mother of God and mother of humanity
Even before the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, people were significantly devoted to the Virgin.[9] As Theotokos, which is Greek for “Christ-bearer,” Mary was the considered the person who bore Christ, but the term avoided anything about who she was as as person and did not imply any other relationship between the two. During the sixth century, there were only a few images of Christ being held by Mary.[10] It was not until after iconoclasm that the motherhood of Mary was promoted and became explicit in texts and images.[11] In the Church of the Buckle (Tokali Kilise), there is an early example of the Eleousa icon that is also commonly called Mary, the Mother of God (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Virgin Eleousa, Göreme, Turkey, early tenth century.

This church, a cave that was carved into the soft, volcanic stone, was a sanctuary and a large monastic center in the Byzantine Cappadocia, which is now central Turkey. Surprisingly, this icon is one of the few that actually survives from the early tenth century, and this image would become standard, appearing more often during the Byzantine empire. In the niche in the sanctuary corridor, the fresco icon of the Virgin Eleousa is shown.[12] The Virgin holding Christ closely against here, and both of their checks touch affectionately. We see Christ’s arms around Mary’s neck. The image is tender and is supposed to evoke an empathetic reaction.[13] While this image is emotionally charged, it is clearly an iconic type, meaning the image was meant for private and communal prayer and devotion.[14]

Second, the Virgin Elousa has also been seen as a mother to humanity, which places less emphasis on the divine characteristic of Mary. Using the same example as in the previous paragraph, the fresco icon of the Virgin Eleousa has been seen as representing motherhood in general because she is eye-to-eye with the viewer (Fig. 2). She was called the mother of all because she was considered the skenoma, or the abode, for Christ. As a mother to all humans, she possessed a rare quality of affection and devotion—connected to her maternal feelings and character.[15] The Virgin Eleousa could be seen as an Eve figure since she becomes the mother of all those who enter the Christian Church and are born again.

Eleousa as a figure foreshadowing Christ’s sacrifice
This section will analyze the Eleousa as a figure foreshadowing Christ’s sacrifice by comparing the large icon of Our Lady of Tolga, which is called Tolga I or Tolgysky I, and the small icon of Our Lady of Tolga, which is also known as Tolga II or Tolgsky II (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4).

Figure 3. A large icon of Our Lady Tolga (so-called Tolgsky I or Tolga I), Yaroslavl, Russia, last quarter of the thirteenth century.

Figure 3. A large icon of Our Lady Tolga (so-called Tolgsky I or Tolga I), Yaroslavl, Russia, last quarter of the thirteenth century.

Figure 4. A small icon of Our Lady of Tolga (so-called Tolgsky II or Tolga II), Yaroslavl, Russia, around 1314.

Figure 4. A small icon of Our Lady of Tolga (so-called Tolgsky II or Tolga II), Yaroslavl, Russia, around 1314.

While these icons were created in Russia, it is believed that the icons were influenced by the Theotokos of Vladimir (Fig. 5). Both icons were created in the Tolga convent near Yaroslavl, which is how both received their nicknames. The large icon shows the Virgin Eleousa seated on a throne with the Christ child, grabbing his mother’s neck, on her left knee. Above the throne, two angels are shown with hidden hands. The Virgin Eleousa shows a sophisticated, direct expression and is considered to be one of the most emotional Russian icons from the thirteenth century.[16]

Figure 5. Theotokos of Vladimir (also known as Our Lady Vladimir, Vladimir Mother of God, or Virgin of Vladimir), Moscow, Russia, 1130.

Figure 5. Theotokos of Vladimir (also known as Our Lady Vladimir, Vladimir Mother of God, or Virgin of Vladimir), Moscow, Russia, 1130.

In contrast to the large icon of Our Lady Tolga, the small icon has significant changes that emphasize the Eleousa as a figure foreshadowing Christ’s sacrifice. Legend has it that the Virgin miraculously appeared to the Bishop Prokhor during the same time as the creation date of this icon, 1314. Here no throne is depicted, and the Christ child is sitting instead of standing, as in the large icon. Mary’s face has a much more mournful expression, which is seen with strong lines. The texture becomes more lush, while white coloring on the figures, such as on the forehead, neck, eyes, nose, and chin, emphasize the connection between mother and child. The smaller icon is considered to be more intense and dynamic than the larger icon because we see a pitiable Virgin Eleousa lamenting the fact that her innocent baby will one day die and sacrifice his life for all humanity.

Additionally, Mary’s hands are in a different position, which are seen as holding the Christ Child even closer to her than as seen in the larger icon.[17] Therefore, the later, smaller version of the Our Lady Tolga seems to present a more powerful image of the Virgin Eleousa, who clearly loves her son and suffers at the thought of his sacrifice that will one day occur.

Eleousa as sorrowful mother at Christ’s death
After the iconoclastic period, Byzantine artists added a new subject, the Lamentation of the Virgin. The earliest Lamentation scenes come from the eleventh century where we see Mary lamenting over the body of Christ, which occurs after the deposition of the cross but before the placement in the tomb.

The Lamentation scene is not described in the canonical Gospel texts, but it is described in Byzantine hymns and sermons as well as in the Apocrypha. In the ninth century, George of Nicomedia wrote what he imagined the Virgin to say: “I am now holding him without breath whom lately I took in my arms as my own dearest one.”[18] In the fresco of Lamentations over Christ’s Body from the St. Panteleimon, Mary is shown in a kind of kneeling or sitting position with her son in her lap (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. The Lamentation over Christ’s body, Nerezi, Serbia, twelfth century.

Figure 6. The Lamentation over Christ’s body, Nerezi, Serbia, twelfth century.

Byzantine artists and citizens would have connected the lamenting Mary with the Eleousa type, since both depict Mary with Christ in a loving embracing and touching cheek-to-cheek. The connection between both is even more apparent in the literary writings of the time of what Mary said: “I raised you in a mother’s arms . . . . Now I raise you up in the same arms, but lying as the dead.”[19] Therefore, even though the Christ is no longer a child but an adult man, Mary is still seen as the Virgin Eleousa in the Lamentation portrayals.

Eleousa as intercessor
During the Byzantine period, the Virgin Eleousa was often seen as an intercessor or advocate.[20] Mary’s role was an important one on behalf of humanity, which probably even furthered the popularity of icons depicting the Virgin with Christ child. Additionally, this cult of the Virgin could have created more depictions of an affectionate relationship between Mary, as the intercessor, and Christ, as the judge.[21] In connection to the depictions of Mary being joyful over the birth of Christ and being sorrowful as foreshadowing the death of Christ, the emotional element of the icons would enhance the role of Virgin as intercessor.[22]

Byzantine people would feel connected to the Virgin in her role as intercessor because they would probably hope that her sensibility would have her advocate on their behalf. Liz James describes the icon of Mary in the Church of Pangia Arakiotissa in Cyprus as a Virgin Eleousa, even though there is only Mary and no Christ depicted in the same area (Fig 7).

Figure 7. The Virgin Eleusoa, Lagoudera, Cyprus, twelfth century.

Figure 7. The Virgin Eleusoa, Lagoudera, Cyprus, twelfth century.

However, Mary’s head is tilted, as we have seen so often with the Virgin Eleousa, and Christ is shown on the other side (Fig. 8).[23] Most importantly, the depiction reveals a tender and merciful Mary advocating on behalf of humanity.

Figure 8. Christ Antiphonitis, Lagoudera, Cyprus, twelfth century.

Figure 8. Christ Antiphonitis, Lagoudera, Cyprus, twelfth century.

In this icon of Virgin Eleousa as intercessor, the text written describes the conversation between Mary and Christ. While Mary’s left hand rests on her chest, her left hand, which is covered, presents the scroll with the petition to her son. The words of Mary are in black, while Christ’s are in red. Additionally, the names of neither Christ nor Mary are explicitly mentioned, but context reveals who says which lines:

  • [Christ]            What do you ask, Mother?
  • [Mary]             The salvation of mortals.
  • [Christ]            They have provoked me to anger.
  • [Mary]             Be compassionate, my Son.
  • [Christ]            But they have not repented.
  • [Mary]             And preserve for them your grace.
  • [Christ]            Atonement is possible.
  • [Mary]             I give you thanks, O Logos.[24]

Here we see a dialogue[25] with a vengeful, angry Christ and a benevolent, sympathetic Mary. Her pleas appear to convince Christ that his suffering and grace is sufficient to save imperfect souls. Icons were believed to be performative because of the rituals associated with them and because of the miracles that occurred through the icons themselves.[26] With this depiction of the Virgin, the icon is performative, since the Virgin Eleousa performs as an advocate on behalf of humanity by speaking with her son.

Eleousa with symbolic stars, representing Mary’s virginity and connection to the trinity
Icons sometimes depicted three crosses, whether on icons showing Mary or saints. While depicting only one cross would represent Christ’s sacrifice, three crosses would be symbolic of the Trinity. This correlation could be why Catholics cross themselves in order to show their faith in the Trinity as well as draw strength from the cross of Christ. During the middle Byzantine period, sometimes the crosses were replaced with stars and could continue to be symbols of the Trinity, which would become even more popular in the late and post-Byzantine periods. Many variations in how the stars were depicted developed during this later time (Fig. 9).

Figure 9. Stars, late Byzantine period.

Figure 9. Stars, late Byzantine period.

However, these stars have been also associated as symbols of Mary’s virginity—before, during, and after the birth of Christ. This symbolism could be connected to how Byzantine hymns and chants described Mary’s virginity as luminous and how “she is exalted in astral symbolism as the star that heralds the sun.”[27] Therefore, the stars could be symbolic of Mary’s virginity, which would be emphasized by showing the Christ Child on Mary’s lap.

Unfortunately, there is no longer an icon of Mary and the Christ Child with the stars that survives. However, George Galavaris uses the example of Our Lady of the Don, which shows Eleousa and Christ Child, that may have been created by Theophanes the Greek during the fourteenth century. Galavaris uses this Eleousa icon to show a comparison of an ekphrasis, or literary description, that John Eugenikos published in the fifteenth century of a similar-looking icon that had the stars shown (Fig. 10).

Figure 10. Our Lady of the Don, Theophanes the Greek, Moscow, Russia, the fourteenth century.

Figure 10. Our Lady of the Don, Theophanes the Greek, Moscow, Russia, the fourteenth century.

It is possible that this ekphrasis could be describing an Hodgetrai type or a Glykophilousa type actually, since it is difficult to tell based on the description. Nonetheless, Eugenikos writes that “the three shining stars appearing on the forehead and the shoulders should not be considered as having a secondary significance. They are symbols of the Grace of the luminous Trinity which as soon as it dwelt in her caused the One to be revealed from here.”[28] Thus, these stars could be symbolic of not only Mary’s virginity but also Mary’s relation to the Trinity.

Eleousa icon with St. Stephen the Younger, representing triumph over iconclasm
The monastery of St. Neophytos, or Enkleistra meaning “place of reclusion,” is located in Cyprus, and on its west wall, a frieze shows twelve saints, including St. Stephen the Younger as the twelfth saint depicted (Fig. 11).[29]

Figure 11. St. Stephen the Younger, Tala, Cyprus, twelfth century.

Figure 11. St. Stephen the Younger, Tala, Cyprus, twelfth century.

His name is inscribed on both sides of his halo, and he is painted at a lower level than the other saints because of how the cave bulges. This St. Stephen the Younger has brown hair and a pointed beard, a halo with rows of pearls, an ochre tunic, a scapular with strips, crosslets, and rosettes, a mantle with cords that hangs down around his knees, and a black belt with rosettes.

Here we see St. Stephen holding a depiction of an Eleousa icon as well as a scroll both in his left hand. The inscription on the scroll says the following: “If a man does not reverence our Lord Jesus Christ and his spotless Mother depicted on an icon, let him be anathema.”[30] The Christ child grabs his mother’s neck and extends his right foot while the left foot’s sole is seen. Both halos on Christ and Mary are gilded, while Christ’s halo has a cross. In comparison to the other saints, St. Stephen the Younger was a martyr during the Byzantine Iconclastic period and is the only one shown holding an icon. It is possible that this portrayal of the Eleousa icon was meant to represent another icon also in this monastery.[31] However, choosing an iconophile saint implies that the artists, who would mostly likely also be inconphiles, used the Eleousa and St. Stephen the Younger together to represent the triumph of venerated, religious icons over the destruction of iconoclasm.

Conclusion
The Virgin Mary was venerated by citizens, no matter their socioeconomic status, and was believed to be able to protect the great Byzantine empire and the city of Constantinople. However, that was not her only purpose, and the Virgin Eleousa was revered by many because viewers saw the mother of Christ as the mother of humanity and an advocate on their behalf. While showing her incredible selflessness and love towards the Christ child, the face of the Virgin Eleousa portrays a knowing mother who knows the trials her perfect son would one day face for the salvation of the world.

When this icon was presented with St. Stephen the Younger, it represented the triumph over iconoclasm. Additionally, seeing stars and this icon together represented not only Mary’s virginity but also the trinity. Although the mother of Christ was seen as a political protector, especially in Constantinople, people also revered the Virgin Eleousa as an icon of reverence and sincere religious belief, representing beauty and spiritual truth.

ENDNOTES

[1] Robert P. Bergman, “The Earliest Eleousa: A Coptic Ivory in the Walters Art Gallery,” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 48 (1990): 46–47.

[2] Cecily Hennessy, Images of Children in Byzantium (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2008), 202.

[3] Annabel Jane Wharton, “Tenderness and hegemony: exporting the Virgin Eleousa,” World art: Themes of unity in diversity, edited by Irving Lavin (University Park: Pennsylvania Stat University Press, 1989), 71.

[4] Hennessy, Images of Children . . ., 72.

[5] Although never officially declared as the spiritual protector of the city of Rome, the Virgin Mary played a significant role for Romans, as well. (See John Osborne, “Images of the Mother of God in Early Medieval Rome,” Icon and Word: The Power of Images in Byzantium, ed. by Antony Eastmond and Liz James [Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2003]: 135–136.)

[6] Wharton, “Tenderness . . .,” 73.

[7] Pamela Z. Blum, “A Madonna and Four Saints from Angers: An Archeological Approach to an Iconographical Problem,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, 34, no. 3 (Winter 1973): 48.

[8] “Virgin Glykophilousa (‘The Visit’),” Byzantine Museum, accessed November 30, 2015, http://www.ebyzantinemuseum.gr/?i=bxm.el.exhibit&id=44.

[9] Bergman, “The Earliest Eleousa . . .,” 46.

[10] Ioli Kalavrezou, “The maternal side of the Virgin.” Mother of God: Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine art (New York City: Abbeville Publishing Group, 2000), 41.

[11] Ibid., 42.

[12] Wharton, “Tenderness . . .,” 74

[13] Bergman, “The Earliest Eleousa . . .,” 48.

[14] Kalavrezou, “The maternal side of the Virgin . . .,” 43.

[15] Ibid., 42.

[16] Viktor Lazarev, Russian icon painting from its origins to the beginning of the 14th century, accessed November 22, 2015, http://www.icon-art.info.

[17] Ibid.

 [18] Henry Maguire, Art and Eloquence in Byzantium (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 102.

[19] Ibid., 102–103.

 [20] Images of the Virgin Paraklesis, or the Virgin as Intercessor, are sometimes also labeled as the Virgin Eleousa. (See Nancy Patterson Ševčenko, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, s.v. “Virgin Paraklesis,” [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], accessed November 29, 2015, http://www.oxfordreference.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/view /10.1093/acref/ 9780195046526.001.0001/acref-9780195046526-e-5759?rskey=u60AVV&result=7.)

[21] Bergman, “The Earliest Eleousa . . .,” 52.

[22] Henry Maguire, “The Depiction of Sorrow in Middle Byzantine Art,” Dumbarton Oaks 31 (1997): 166.

[23] Robert S. Nelson, “Image and Inscription: Please for Salvation in Spaces of Devotion,” Art and Text in Byzantine Culture, ed. Liz James (Cambridge: Cambridge Un. Press, 2007), 112.

[24] Ibid., 112.

[25] Dialogues were considered to be “a well-established rhetorical device of Byzantine homilies” (See Robert S. Nelson, “Image and Inscription: Please for Salvation in Spaces of Devotion,” Art and Text in Byzantine Culture, ed. Liz James [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007], 112.)

[26] Averil Cameron, Byzantine Matters (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 84.

[27] George Galvararis, Colours, Symbols, Worship: The Mission of the Byzantine Artist (London: The Pindar Press, 2012), 136.

[28] Ibid., 139.

[29] Cyril Mango and Ernest J. W. Hawkins, “The Hermitage of St. Neophytos and its Wall Paintings” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 20 (1966): 121.

 [30] Ibid., 156.

[31] Alexander Kazhdan and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan, s.v. “Stephen the Younger” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), accessed November 29, 2015, http://www.oxfordreference.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/view/10.1093/acref /9780195046526.001.0001/acref-9780195046526-e-5135?rskey=u60AVV&result=16.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bergman, Robert P. “The Earliest Eleousa: A Coptic Ivory in the Walters Art Gallery.” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 48 (1990): 37–56.

Blum, Pamela Z. “A Madonna and Four Saints from Angers: An Archeological Approach to an Iconographical Problem.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, 34, no. 3 (Winter 1973). 30–57.

Carr, Annemarie Weyl. “Donors in the Frames of Icons: Living in the Borders of Byzantine Art.” Gesta 45, no. 2 (2002): 189–198.

Cameron, Averil. Byzantine Matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Chatzidakis, Nano. “A Fourteenth-Century Icon of the Virgin Eleousa in the Byzantine

Museum of Athens.” Byzantine East, Latin West: art-historical studies in honor of Kurt Weitzmann. Ed. Doula Mouriki. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Cotsonis, John. “The Virgin and Justinian on Seals of the ‘Ekklesiekdikoi’ of Hagia Sophia.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 56 (2002): 41–55.

Galvararis, George. Colours, Symbols, Worship: The Mission of the Byzantine Artist. London: The Pindar Press, 2012.

Hennessy, Cecily. Images of Children in Byzantium. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2008.

Kalavrezou, Ioli. “The maternal side of the Virgin.” Mother of God: Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine art. Ed. Maria Vassilaki. New York City: Abbeville Publishing Group, 2000.

Kazhdan, Alexander and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Ed. Alexander P. Kazhdan. s.v. “Stephen the Younger.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Accessed November 29, 2015. http://www.oxfordreference.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780195046526.001.0001/acref-9780195046526-e-5135?rskey=u60AVV&result=16.

Lazarev, Viktor. Russian icon painting from its origins to the beginning of the 14th century. Accessed November 22, 2015. http://www.icon-art.info.

Maguire, Henry. Art and Eloquence in Byzantium. Princeton: Princeton Un. Press, 1981.

Maguire, Henry. “The Depiction of Sorrow in Middle Byzantine Art.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 31 (1977): 123–174.

Mango, Cyril and Ernest J. W. Hawkins. “The Hermitage of St. Neophytos and its Wall Paintings.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 20 (1966): 119–206.

Nelson, Robert S. “Image and Inscription: Please for Salvation in Spaces of Devotion.” Art and Text in Byzantine Culture. Ed. Liz James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Nersessian, Sirarpie der. “A Psalter and New Testament Manuscript at Dumbarton Oaks.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 19 (1965): 155–183.

Osborne, John. “Images of the Mother of God in Early Medieval Rome.” Icon and Word: The Power of Images in Byzantium. Ed. Antony Eastmond and Liz James. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2003.

Ševčenko, Nancy Patterson. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Ed. Alexander P. Kazhdan. s.v. “Virgin Paraklesis.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Accessed November 29, 2015. http://www.oxfordreference.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780195046526.001.0001/acref-9780195046526-e-5759?rskey=u60AVV&result=7.

Talbot, Alice-Mary. “Epigrams of Manuel Philes on the Theotokos Tes Peges and its Art.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 48 (1994): 135–165.

“Virgin Glykophilousa (‘The Visit’).” Byzantine Museum. Accessed November 30, 2015. http://www.ebyzantinemuseum.gr/?i=bxm.el.exhibit&id=44.

Wharton, Annabel Jane. “Tenderness and hegemony: exporting the Virgin Eleousa.” Worldart: Themes of unity in diversity: acts of the XXVIth International Congress of the History of Art. Edited by Irving Lavin. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989.

Giorgio Vasari—The Father of Art History

Giorgio Vasari (a.k.a. the Father of Art History) lived from 1511 to 1574 and wrote The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, which was first published in Florence in 1550 and then revised and expanded in 1568. Some criticized Vasari for focusing on and praising Tuscan and Roman artists. Yet his book influenced others who generated similar artist biographies.

Giorgio Vasari

Giorgio Vasari

Vasari’s Lives includes biographies about artists and his version of the history of Italian Renaissance art. This book is divided into three parts, each with its own preface. The first part focuses on the fourteenth century and its artists, such as Cimabue and Giotto. The second part focuses on the fifteenth century and its artists, including Masaccio, Ghiberti, Donatello, and Botticelli. Finally, the third part focuses on sixteenth century, which Vasari considered the highest point of the Renaissance, and the works by Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Therefore, Vasari presents the progress of art, which has its own internal cycle of birth (e.g., development in antiquity), perfection (e.g., peaks in Greek and Roman empires), death (e.g., fall of empires), and rebirth (e.g., the Renaissance), for his audience—primarily artists and patrons.

Vasari had two major goals in his book. First, he desired to distinguish the best artists and to help readers understand the causes and origins of artistic styles. Second, he wrote about the lives of artists in order to ensure their fame and to save them from a “second death”—oblivion. For Vasari, the purpose of history was to teach humans how to live. His prefaces, therefore, contain moralizing introductions and end with poetic epitaphs.

Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, c. 1490.

Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, c. 1490.

We must acknowledge Vasari’s Christian background. In the 1550 edition of the preface for the first section, Vasari begins with God creating the world and ends with Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. Consequently, Vasari presents a history of art by using a Christian paradigm.

Vasari’s disegno—both a concept and a practice—applies not only to design but also to drawing. Artists achieve this skill (1) by imitating the most beautiful things in nature and (2) by combining the most beautiful parts of different human bodies to create one, ideal figure. After the idealized figure has been created, it becomes the model for all the figures the artist creates henceforth.

Disegno is important because it is seen as the foundation, which then leads to painting, sculpture, and architecture. Its origin rests in the intellect; therefore, disegno enables the artist not only to perceive numerical relationships between things but also to create mental images of abstract forms. Additionally, disegno is a source of artistic judgment. Conversely, in Aretino, Dolce provided a different interpretation of disegno, suggesting that invention and color were equally important in the act of painting.

Vasari was a prolific artist and contributed to founding one of the earliest art academies in Florence in the 1560s. However, his fame is connected to his extensive writings concerning art. Remarkably, Vasari’s writings remain the primary source for students and scholars alike when studying Renaissance art.

Agnes Block—Mother Figure, Property Owner, and Working Woman: Comparing Netherlandish Female and Male Artists’ Family Portraits in the Seventeenth Century

Introduction
Agnes Block[1] was an eminent paper artist, illustrator, horticulturalist, and patron of the arts in Amsterdam.[2] In 1649, Block married for the first time to Hans de Wollf, who was a silk merchant. She reportedly studied, read, drew, painted, and sculpted, and when she drew, she preferred flower beds and arbors because they were important to her.[3] In fact, Joost van den Vondel wrote poems about how she could draw and paint beautifully.[4] Jan Weenix painted a portrait of Block and her family titled Agnes Block, Sybrand de Flines and two children in the outdoor courtyard Vijverhof,[5] presenting Block, her second husband, and two children (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Jan Weenix, Agnes Block, Sybrand de Flines and two children in the outdoor courtyard Vijverhof, 1674 (?).

Scholars argue concerning who these children are, since no offspring resulted from either of Block’s marriages. It is important to consider how portraits present perspectives of the individuals portrayed, sending a message about their socioeconomic background, elegance, and family to the viewers. Although these children could be Block’s stepchildren or her niece and nephew, the children could be allegorical of Block’s ability to be not only a mother figure but also a working woman and property owner. The portrayal of Block and her family portrait subverts societal expectations of women and the identity of the family, which are also portrayed in other family portraits of Netherlandish male and female artists.

Block’s Family Portrait
The date of this family portrait is debated. Albert Blanken believed the painting was created much later in Block’s life.[6] In contrast, Catharina Van de Graft, the biographer of Block, argues that the painting was created in 1674 because Block married de Flines, who was a silk merchant like her first husband, during this year; therefore, this portrait could be commemorative of their wedding. On the actual portrait, the third number of the year is not readable, explaining the differences in scholarly opinions.[7] Block’s second husband had two daughters from a previous marriage: Elizabeth (1662–1717) and Anna (1661–1713). However, in 1674, the two daughters would have been twelve and thirteen years old, which is older than the two children shown here (Fig. 1). Nevertheless, if Jan Weenix did paint the portrait at a later date, it would still be problematic because the girls would have either been depicted as adults or shown as prepubescent teenagers, not children.[8]

While the children could be de Flines’ daughters, the portrait could be depicting a girl and a boy rather than two girls. If this is the case, then the children are probably not de Flines’, since he only had two daughters. It is possible that the children are a nephew and a niece of either Agnes Block or de Flines.[9] Block, not de Flines, determined who would become heirs and continue her legacy; however, throughout her life, Block struggled with creating a will, changing it over ten times. During this time, family members entered and fell out of favor with their aunt. In her will from 1694, Block required that her heir must purchase Vijverhof, the property she owned with the garden depicted in the family portrait (Fig. 1). However, after Block died on 20 April 1704, none of the cousins wanted to buy it. As a result, Vijverhof was sold, the gardens disappeared, and the house destroyed in 1813.[10]

Although the children’s identity are unknown, we see an amalgamation of Block’s material successes. Block, a skilled botanist and breeder of rare and exotic plants, was the first person to successfully grow the foreign fruit of pineapple in the Dutch Republic. In the left hand corner of the painting, a spiky, squat pineapple is depicted in addition to a cactus.[11] Her plants and flowers in Vijverhof came from all over the world—some seeds came from America or Asia. Educated male visitors, including a professor of botany and a German physician, observed her gardens.[12] In the painting, we see poinsettia-looking flowers with long red leaves and smaller white blossoms on either side of the sitting child. In the background, an orange tree and a pomegranate tree are shown. During the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, domestic scenes were commonly depicted in art because “the domestic interior . . . was a reflection of Christian principles in an ordered setting and the roles of women in the home.”[13] Additionally, Laurinda S. Dixon argues, “[D]omesticity was a moral imperative imposed on women from without.”[14] This portrait is one of the few from the seventeenth century that portrays the client’s yard rather than inside of the home, subverting the traditional portrait and expectations of women. Block is not portrayed as being amoral, even though the scene is portrayed outside. Therefore, the background of the portrait could represent what Vijverhof actually looked like.[15]

When the painting was created could influence whether or not this is an actual portrayal of how Block’s property looked. After her first husband’s death in February 1670, Block bought her own land along the River Vecht in July of that same year. The beautiful Vijverhof included an orangery, buildings, orchards, gardens, and areas of water. However, the work was delayed in 1672 because of war. We do not know how much of Block’s property was completed or when the construction began again. If the painting was dated 1674—a mere two years after work was stopped, it is possible that Vijverhof was still not finished. Block’s home was fortunately spared from the damages of war, but her flower beds were empty, and her joy was marred by broken statues in the spring of 1674.[16] If some of Block’s gardens were not constructed or were damaged from the war, the painting could represent what Block hoped the rest of her property would look like one day.[17] Just as the background of the portrait could represent an imagined, hoped-for Vijverhof, the children in the portrait could also represent hoped-for children.

With Block’s property, works of art, and plants all portrayed, it could seem that the inclusion of family would make the painting overflow with figures and details. However, we see two children, a husband, and a wife, representing what was expected for a “traditional” family unit. De Jongh argues Block adopted the view that imperfect nature had to be perfected by human ingenuity.[18] We see Block’s ingenuity here at work to create a perfect image of herself. Block presents herself as a woman who could have it all, so she would be seen as the hard-working, independent woman, the devoted wife, and the caring mother—or mother figure—even if she never had any children of her own.

The Perception of Widows
The mystery children in the portrait could represent Block’s hope of the future or her mourning of the past she never had. Block was approximately forty-five years old when she remarried. Dating the portrait at 1674 would suggest the possibilities of the future—a new marriage, a new life, and a new legacy. Menopause can affect women at various ages; although we do not know when Block experienced menopause, some women can bear children in their forties. By extension of the portrait, it could suggest the hope “which children were to fulfil in the future”[19] or the hope of conception. On the other hand, dating the portrait around 1694 could represent the fact that the elderly Block knew, near the end of her life, she would never have any children of her own.

Jacob Cats’s Houwelyck, which was published originally in 1625 and was the second bestseller after the Bible, discusses the stages of a woman’s life and includes a chapter on widowhood. This book represents commonly held beliefs and opinions of the day. In the Dutch Republic, portraits of elderly women often focused on their spirituality. Widows were expected to bridle their passions because the elderly were expected to be better at controlling themselves than the younger generation.[20] However, in Block’s family portrait, Block—although not a young woman—is a widow; nevertheless, she is not portrayed as overly pious (e.g., she is not depicted as praying or reading scripture). Additionally, widows were examples not only to young women who were about to marry but also to married women on how to interact with their husbands and rear their children.[21] The words widow and mentor were synonymous in the perspective of the Dutch, yet Block would not have completely fit that mold. Yes, she was a widow and did not bear any children, and thus she had no experience raising children.

Whoever the children are in the portrait, Block appears to accept and take on the appearance of role model and mother figure. Nevertheless, she complicates the role proscribed by patriarchal values and expectations in early modern Europe and re-fashions herself into who she is and how she wants to be seen. Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare centers around how people believed they had malleable roles and identities in life during sixteenth-century England.[22] Similarly, Block sees herself as having malleable roles and how that influences the depiction of her family and her in the portrait (Fig. 1). The following sections will compare and contrast Block’s family portrait with other portraits of Netherlandish male and female artists during the seventeenth century.

Male Artists’ Family Portraits
In contrast to the portrait of Agnes Block, we see family portraits of artists, sometimes with or without children. The Artist with his Family (c. 1646–47), a self-portrait by Karel van Mander III, depicts no children—only his wife and mother-in-law are shown (Fig. 2). His wife reads the Bible, while her mother does needlework. Both women appear to be pious and respectable. In contrast, family portraits of other artists do include children in the picture. In Cornelis Dusart’s Jan Steen and Family, we see a nagging wife, while Jan Steen, the artist, tries to work (Fig. 3). A boy kneels before the father with a puppy in hand, trying to distract the father who is turning away from the wife, pestering him from behind. Additionally, there is another child in the background who appears to be riffling through the father’s paintings. This portrayal suggests that the wife should be taking care of the children so the husband can focus on his work, the painting resting on the easel.

Figure 2. Karel van Mander III, The Artist with his Family, 1646–47.

Figure 3. Cornelis Dusart, Jan Steen and Family, date unknown.

Figure 3. Cornelis Dusart, Jan Steen and Family, date unknown.

The family portraits of Karel van Mander III and Jan Steen are different from Block’s family portrait. Block’s family portrait includes the children in the painting, but Block is not shown as being distracted or unable to complete her work, as in Steen’s family portrait. Children are portrayed in her family portrait, unlike van Mander’s, while Block efficaciously displays her accomplishments from her collection, such as shells and butterflies, without overcrowding the painting with too many knick knacks. Block appears to be more successful than the male artists because she seemingly can do both with neither her work nor the children suffering. The children appear to be happy (e.g., the smiling faces of both children) and loved (e.g., the girl and Block’s affectionate interaction). Additionally, the children do not rummage through her things or interrupt her, showing that she has been able to work, create drawings, and establish her own home in a peaceful environment. Although she may not be the ideal role model (i.e., a woman with children of her own), Block is still portrayed as a successful mother figure.

Figure 4. Peter Paul Rubens, Rubens, His Wife Hélène Fourment, and Their Son Peter Paul, probably late 1630s.

In other family portraits of Netherlandish artists, we see the portrayal of blending new families together, such as if one spouse died and the remaining spouse remarried. For example, Rubens’s first wife died, and he remarried a woman named Hélène Fourment. The painting by Rubens called Rubens, His Wife Hélène Fourment, and Their Son Peter Paul shows him at a new stage of his life (Fig. 4).[23]

There is no attention shown here to children from the first marriage[24] or other children from the second marriage. Rather, the focus is on the new family Rubens has created; Hélène Fourment was only sixteen and Rubens was fifty-three when they married. They are shown together, Rubens staring at Fourment, who is looking down at the child, who is gazing up at his mother. Rather than painting all of his children from both marriages, he painted only his youngest son. This painting does not represent a blending of the entire family; rather, it represents a specific portrayal of Rubens with his second wife and youngest son.

Figure 5. Michiel van Musscher, Portrait of Michiel Comans (d. 1687), calligrapher, etcher, painter and schoolmaster, with his third wife Elisabeth van der Mersche, 1669.

Another example of an artist’s family portrait without children is Portrait of Michiel Comans (d. 1687), calligrapher, etcher, painter and schoolmaster, with his third wife Elisabeth van der Mersche by Michiel van Musscher, which was painted in 1669 (Fig. 5).

We see no children in this family portrait because both figures are older. The woman represented here is the artist’s third wife. Therefore, because of their age and time of life, it is possible that no children resulted from this marriage. As with Rubens, rather than showing a portrait of the entire family with children from previous marriages, we see Comans and his third wife together, perhaps commemorating their new union. Additionally, we see Comans’s work as an artist, with his brushes, palette with color swatches, and painting on an easel in the background. In contrast, his wife is shown reading, perhaps the Bible, which would be similar to van Mander’s wife in that family portrait (Fig. 2). As a result, Comans proudly presents his work and gazes directly into the viewers’ eyes, while the wife merely sits to the side and piously looks up to her husband. At this time, the Netherlandish tradition was to portray no children or show only one child rather than all the children. If the children in the Block’s family portrait would not have been included, it would not have been considered extraordinary. Rather it appears that the inclusion of children is a deliberate decision.

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Figure 6. Wallerant Vaillant, Maria van Oosterwyck, 1671.

Female Artists’ Family Portraits
Female artists who are married or single portray themselves differently in portraits. To begin with, the Netherlandish, unmarried female artists are at greater liberty to represent themselves for three reasons. First, they do not have to include husbands in their paintings. Second, they do not have to include children because having children out of wedlock in a Protestant society would be scandalous, perhaps even detrimental to their careers. Third, they can focus on representing themselves in association to their profession. For example, Wallerant Vaillant’s Maria van Oosterwyck (c. 1671) depicts a representation of this female artist, van Oosterwyck (Fig. 6).

While she never married nor had any children, we see a pallet with paint colors and several brushes in her left hand. Additionally, in her lap, we see a book, which could possibly be the Bible, and her right hand is in the process of turning to the next page. Therefore, we, as the viewers, learn how van Oosterwyck wanted us to perceive her. She is portrayed as an educated, pious woman who identifies as an artist and is proud of her work. Because she is single, she does not have responsibility or societal expectation to portray herself as a wife or a mother.

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Figure 7. Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait, 1630.

Another female artist from the Netherlands is Judith Leyster, who painted a portrait of herself while she was a single woman. Her Self-Portrait (c. 1630) depicts Leyster in the middle of her work with a painting, turning around with numerous brushes in hand (Fig. 7).

Because she is an unmarried woman, she does not have to conform to societal expectations and portray herself as a mother or wife. In contrast, Jan Miense Molenaer’s The Duet (c. 1635–36) depicts a marriage portrait of a couple who are believed to be Leyster and her husband (Fig. 8). Nothing is shown here of Leyster’s work as an artist. Instead, Molenaer is significantly taller, and the hat exaggerates his height in comparison to Leyster, even though both are sitting down. Molenaer was an artist, like his wife, so there is the possibility he felt he was in competition with his wife.

Figure 8. Jan Miense Molenaer, The Duet, 1635–36

Figure 8. Jan Miense Molenaer, The Duet, 1635–36.

Figure 9. Juriaen Pool II, Self-portrait of Juriaen Pool with Rachel Ruysch and their son Jan Willem Pool, 1716 or first quarter of 18th century (1700–1724).

Figure 9. Juriaen Pool II, Self-portrait of Juriaen Pool with Rachel Ruysch and their son Jan Willem Pool, 1716 or first quarter of 18th century (1700–1724).

Another example to consider is Rachel Ruysch (c. 1664–1750), a famous still-life painter. Juriaen Pool II’s Self portrait of Juriaen Pool with Rachel Ruysch and their son Jan Willem Pool (c. 1716 or first quarter of 18th century) is a self-portrait painted by Ruysch’s husband (Fig. 9).

We see a pyramid structure with Pool at the apex and Ruysch at a lower level than her husband. The child, a son, appears to be standing or kneeling, but since he is a child, he is smaller than both parents. We still see a hierarchy with the tallest figure being the man as husband and father, while the woman is placed at a lower level as wife and mother. However, there is still a subtle reference to Ruysch’s work as an artist. Because Ruysch leans away from Pool and rests her arm on the table, the focus is drawn towards the floral arrangement to the side of her. We may not see paintbrushes or any specific representation of her artwork. However, the positioning still shrewdly draws attention to Ruysch’s identity as an artist, since she was well-known for her still-life paintings, specifically of floral arrangements.

Figure 10. Anthony van Dyck, Family Portrait, 1621

Figure 10. Anthony van Dyck, Family Portrait, 1621.

Male artists and female artists are depicted differently in family portraits. Male artists are depicted as taller or larger than everyone else. In van Dyck’s Family Portrait (c. 1621), van Dyck’s wife appears to be sitting with a child on her lap; in contrast, van Dyck does not seem to be sitting but sort of leans awkwardly forward (Fig. 10).

However, van Dyck’s wife and child are still lower in comparison. Additionally, the child looks up to the father in complete adoration.[25] This portrayal contrasts to Rubens’s family portrait of the mother and child looking at one another (Fig. 4). By showing van Dyck’s young child staring devotedly up to the father, the focus is on van Dyck, and the eye immediately is drawn to that corner of the painting. Another example to consider is Jacob Jordaens’s Portrait of the Artist’s Family in the Garden (c. 1623) (Fig. 11). The wife, servant, and child seem to be separated from Jordaens by an invisible line, creating a clear distinction between the man, standing taller above the others, and the rest of the household. With the family portraits of van Dyck and Jordaens, there is no direct representation of themselves as artists (e.g., no brushes or paint is depicted). Yet these two male artists were more well-known—van Dyck, internationally, and Jordaens, in Flanders—perhaps than some Netherlandish female artists and, therefore, did not need to depict their identity as artists.

Figure 11. Jacob Jordaens, Portrait of the Artist’s Family in the Garden, 1623

Figure 11. Jacob Jordaens, Portrait of the Artist’s Family in the Garden, 1623.

Unlike the male artists, these three female artists discussed in the previous paragraphs had to compensate. As an independent woman, van Oosterwyck could work as a painter but was never a wife or mother and could not identify as either (Fig. 6). Leyster seems less independent and confident in the portrait with her husband because her identity as artist is not portrayed, and she is placed physically lower than her husband (Fig. 7). Ruysch’s position is more complicated because although her work is hinted at, she is still placed lower than her husband (Fig. 8). In contrast to these three female artists, Block’s portrait of her family is different. Block herself was an artist and that is shown dominantly in the painting. We see a drawing of a bird, and since she is the one holding the painting or drawing of the bird in her left hand, that seems to suggest a connection between Block and the drawing. Although we do not know for certain if this specific drawing is an exact replication of one of her pieces, it could generally represent her work and study. The book that is bound with two leather straps could be a portfolio of her drawings of plants and animals, suggesting that perhaps this drawing of the bird was one selected from amongst her collection. In the family portrait, depicting children shows Block as a mother figure and role model, while depicting her work reveals her identity as a botanist and an artist.

In the Dutch Republic, if the boundaries of the world and the home were not strictly observed, people expected trouble within the family and in society.[26] But this strict distinction does not seem to be a problem with Block and de Flines. De Jongh claims that de Flines and Block’s marriage must have been in the minority of seventeenth-century marriages because their view of the position of women, in many respects, was not inferior to that of men. Block and de Flines appear to have had a unique relationship built on greater equality and encouragement. Although her husband is shown standing, it is Block who is center stage, and she plays the prevailing role in this family portrait.[28] She is not merely some woman, but she is the mother figure, the wife, the role model as well as the property owner, the artist, and the botanist.

Conclusion
Family portraits represent the identity of the family as an essential unit in society, especially in the Netherlands. Sometimes children are shown, sometimes a single child is included, or none are depicted. If the artist is a female, her work may or may not be suggested in the painting, which could depend on her marital status. Yet Block’s family portrait is unique when compared to the others because Block challenges societal expectations of women of the Netherlands. We see a woman who takes on her role as a mother figure, while also embracing her pride of her property and of her work as a botanist and an artist.

Endnotes

[1] Agnes is sometimes called Agneta Block instead. However, in this paper, she will consistently be referred to as Agnes Block.

[2] Jennifer M. Killian, “Weenix: (2) Jan Weenix,” Oxford Art Online, 22 October 2015, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T090961pg2?q=%22Agnes+Block%22&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.

[3] Marioes Huiskamp, “Block, Agneta (1629–1704),” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

[4] John Landwehr, De Nederlander Uit En Thus: Spiegel van het dagelijkse leven uit bijzondere zeventiende-eeuwse boeken, (Amsterdam: A. W. Sitjthoff, 1981), 114.

[5] This painting is also known as Portrait of Sijbrand de Flines, Agnes Block and two children. Another title for the piece is Agneta Block and her garden Flora Batava at Vijveho.

[6] Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 265.

[7] Marioes Huiskamp, “Block, Agneta (1629–1704),” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

[8] “Portrait of Sijbrand de Flines (1623–1697), Agnes Block (1629–1704) and two children Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum, inv./can.nr SA20359,” Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, 21 October 2015, https://rkd.nl/en/ explore/images/record?query=Agnes+Block&start=0.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Marioes Huiskamp, “Block, Agneta (1629–1704),” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

[11] In Amsterdam’s Glory: The Old Masters of the City Amsterdam, Norbert Middelkoop and Tom van der Molen believe that the pineapple is believed to originate from Brazil and the cactus from Curaçao. (See page 84.)

[12] Marioes Huiskamp, “Block, Agneta (1629–1704),” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

[13] Katherine Hoffman, Concepts of Identity: Historical and Contemporary Images and Portraits of Self and Family, (New York: IconEditions, 1996), 31.

[14] Laurinda S. Dixon, Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine, (London: Cornell University Press, 1995), 9.

[15] Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw, (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 265.

[16] C. Catharina Van de Graft, Agnes Block: Vondels Nicht en Vriendin, (Utrecht: A. W. Bruna & Zoon’s Uitgevers-Mij, 1943), 66.

[17] Loughman writes, “Dutch depictions of the interior from the seventeenth century provide a skewed impression of what domestic dwellings looked like and how families conducted themselves in these spaces.” Therefore, it is not surprising that artists presented a representation rather than a reality of a particular scene. See John Loughman, “Domestic Bliss? Images of the Family and Home in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Art,” Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art, ed. by Nakamura Toshiharu (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014), pp. 102–103.

[18] The original statement reads, “Agnes Block lijkt de opvatting te hebben aangehangen dat de onvolkomen natuur door het menselijk vernuft vervolmaakt diende te worden” and comes from Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 266.

[19] Mirjam Neumeister, “Changing Images of Childhood: The Children’s Portrait in Netherlandish Art and Its Influence,” Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art, ed. by Nakamura Toshiharu (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014), pp. 114–115.

[20] Wayne E. Franits, Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 161.

[21] Ibid, pp. 188–189.

[22] Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980), xiii.

[23] Rubens painted numerous paintings of Hélène Fourment with their children or of Rubens and Hélène together. However, this family portrait is unique because we see Rubens, Hélène, and a child all together. See page 39 of Janice Anderson’s Children in Art (London: Bracken Books, 1996) for information on the attractive painting, Hélène Fourment and Two of Her Children (c. 1635).

[24] Rubens and Isabella Brant, his first wife, had three children, who were named Clara, Nikolaas, and Albert.

[25] This depiction of the child looking up adoringly could be compared to his portrait of James Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox (c. 1634–35), where the greyhound looks up, idolizing its master.

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Anthony van Dyck, James Stuart (1612–1655), Duke of Richmond and Lennox, ca. 1634–35.

[26] Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 400.

[27] The original statement reads, “De echtver- bintenis van De Flines en Agnes Block moet tot die minderheid van zeventiende-eeuwse huwelijken worden gerekend waarin de positie van de vrouw in velerlei opzicht niet voor die van de man onderdeed.,” which comes from Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 266.

[28] Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 266.

Bibliography

Anderson, Janice. Children in Art. London: Bracken Books, 1996.

De Jongh, Eddy. Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw. Haarlem: Frans Hals Museum, 1986.

Dixon, Laurinda S. Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine. London: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Franits, Wayne E. Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Ducth  Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Hoffman, Katherine. Concepts of Identity: Historical and Contemporary Images and Portraits of Self and Family. New York: IconEditions, 1996.

Huiskamp, Marioes. “Block, Agneta (1629–1704).” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland. 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

Killian, Jennifer M. “Weenix: (2) Jan Weenix.” Oxford Art Online. 22 October 2015. http://www.oxfordartonline.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T090961pg2?q=%22Agnes+Block%22&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.

Landwehr, John. De Nederlander Uit En Thus: Spiegel van het dagelijkse leven uit bijzondere zeventiende-eeuwse boeken. Amsterdam: A. W. Sitjthoff. 1981.

Loughman, John. “Domestic Bliss? Images of the Family and Home in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Art.” Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art. Edited by Nakamura Toshiharu. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014.

Middelkoop, Norbert, and Tom van der Molen. Amsterdam’s Glory: The Old Masters of the City of Amsterdam. Amsterdam: Thoth Publishers Bussum. 2009.

Neumeister, Mirjam. “Changing Images of Childhood: The Children’s Portrait in Netherlandish Art and Its Influence.” Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art. Edited by Nakamura Toshiharu. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014.

“Portrait of Sijbrand de Flines (1623–1697), Agnes Block (1629–1704) and two children Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum, inv./can.nr SA20359.” Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie. 21 October 2015. https://rkd.nl/en/ explore/images/record?query=Agnes+Block&start=0.

Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

Van de Graft, C. Catharina. Agnes Block: Vondels Nicht en Vriendin. Utrecht: A. W. Bruna & Zoon’s Uitgevers-Mij, 1943.

Plato and His Republic

Plato’s dialogues on art are the oldest surviving discussions that we know about in the Western world, which have continued to influence significantly our discussions about art. In fact, Plato would influence Neoplatonism during the medieval era. The Neo-Platonist Plotinus focused on Plato’s theory of art imitating Beauty and eternal Truth.

Techne is a broad term Plato uses, which includes music, painting, mathematics, medicine, and other skilled disciplines. Therefore, techne or art is not always connected with aesthetics.

The term mimesis has been known to mean “imitation” or “representation.” Yet Plato uses this term in different ways. First, in Books II–III of Republic, mimesis occurs when someone represents a character by acting onstage. Second, in Book X, the artistic act of producing images (whether of things or people) is mimetic (Cooper 4).

This world, continually changing, and its physical things (e.g., art, music, nature, and geometry) are all imperfect copies. Plato’s Forms or Ideals include Beauty, Justice, and the Circle, and these Forms are perfect as well as more real than objects here on Earth. While the world of Forms is rational and constant, the world of the physical is changeable and only imitates the Forms.

In Republic, Plato argues that art is a copy of a copy because (first) art imitates the physical, which (second) imitates the Forms. However, in Symposium, Plato argues that the artist can be inspired and reveal the Ideal essences. For example, in Greek art, the late classical sculptures represent the gods with ideal bodies with perfect proportions, thus presenting the Ideal existing in the imperfect world.

Plato reasons that the free exchange of ideas would result in Truth. Yet, he believes that the arts function through images instead of ideas. This is problematic because art could distort—rather than clarify—the Truth.

Book VII of Plato’s Republic presents “The Allegory/Myth of the Cave.” Readers are asked to imagine prisoners chained and facing a wall inside a cave. Because of another wall, a fire, and puppets on sticks, the prisoners can only see shadows, but they think these shadows are Reality. If the prisoners were released, they would learn that (first) the shadows are copies of the puppets and (second) after going outside, the real objects were represented by the puppets.

Art imitates objects and ordinary events. The power of art occurs because of its ability to influence emotions and behavior as well as to lead us away from truth towards illusion. Art is powerful and, therefore, dangerous. In Plato’s ideal republic, art should be used for education and should be censored.

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