Sunday, December 26, 2010

Michelangelo and the Feminine

A couple items to square away first:

1. I hope those of you of the Christmas persuasion, had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was very nice; and I went to Grace Church on 10th and Broadway for midnight services on Christmas eve. Being Jewish, I don't actually do that very frequently, which I realize has led to a bit of a deficit in my understanding of cathedral architecture. The enormous enclosed space above the congregation feels filled; it vibrates with sound and presence. This mighty space seems to me a great part of the awe that cathedrals are so well built to inspire.

2. That last post, the one about information density, appears to have gone over like a lead balloon. Fine. You will see who is laughing in the end, and who is crying. I bite my thumb at thee.

To the subject at hand.

Nowadays, there is a fairly successful if under-reported painting movement that I sometimes think of as "sentimental neo-impressionism." It involves a decent proficiency with color, and extremely brushy brushwork. Often the subject is a naked woman, but so vaguely painted that you could hang one in the drawing room without bringing a blush to the cheek of your maiden aunt.

Practitioners of this treacly genre are sometimes asked, "What inspires you?" The interviewer is staring right at a painting that is clearly a painting of a drowsy and unclad woman waking up slowly (and nakedly) on a sunny morning. And the genre painter in question will reply, "Oh, I'm mostly interested in form and color and composition, the actual subject matter is really quite irrelevant."

You ought not to blame these painters for such transparently fraudulent statements. The originator of this line of bullshit, so far as I can tell, is Henri Matisse.

Oh, I'm mostly interested in form and color and composition, the actual subject matter is really quite irrelevant.

By the way, I am lying to your fucking face right now.

I appreciate your respect for my basic intelligence, Henri.

Let me make a pledge to you. I will never paint a painting of a woman and say, "Oh, it's really all about composition and shapes and lines and colors and forms." Unless someone makes it clear how lying about it will help my career way more than telling the truth, in which case, I will break my pledge to you and sleep like a baby that same night.

But since nobody has yet made a convincing case for lying, I am currently forthright enough to admit that it is a painting of a woman because I love women. Men are great, sure, but women are great plus. Great plus utterly magical. I think most women are completely beautiful and fascinating. I crave the company of women; I feel drunk, pitched headlong into enchantment, listening to what women have to say. Women seem to me to possess the virtues of reason united with a grace of spirit and form which men, optimized as they are for the application of force, nearly lack. I find it endlessly rewarding to make pictures that try to get at just what it is about women that is so absorbing. Let me quit being obscure and unclear about this - I love women.

Which brings us to the strange case of Michelangelo. Michelangelo rather famously combines two peculiar qualities:

1. He is arguably the greatest sculptor who ever lived.

2. He was undeniably godawful at sculpting women.

Statement 2 has a lot of supporting evidence, but it chiefly depends on his figure of Night in the tomb of Giuliano de Medici:


It has been noted that this statue looks like nothing so much as a man with a couple of apples stuck on his chest:

Artist's rendition of a man with a couple of apples stuck on his chest.

This man-with-apples-on-chest construction of the female physique is not unique to the Night, but recurs throughout his oeuvre:


The Last Judgment

The analysis that follows has next to nothing to do with art history or psychology or anything like that. I prefer to maintain my line of near doctrinal ignorance; I find that it frees me up to think thoughts that are more interesting than they would be if I were better informed.

So - let's stipulate that it is entirely fair to state that Michelangelo's sculptures of women's bodies are really just men's bodies with a couple apples stuck on the chest. This issue has gotten Michelangelo a rep as a guy who is just not that interested in women and doesn't get them. Consider a couple of sculptors who are much more committed to the femininity of the female body. You've got your Bernini, with the breath-stopping vitality of his Daphne:

This same Bernini came up with one of the most sensual images in art - for once we're not talking about his Saint Theresa, but rather the fingers of Pluto pressing into the flesh of Proserpina:

You see that? No? OK.
I'm sorry, I can never get enough of this, and I really want you to be able to see what I'm seeing here.
Bernini's work is consummately physical in a way that Michelangelo's is not.

And let's not forget Rodin.


I wouldn't maintain that Michelangelo isn't more interested in men. His men have a vitality and a glory, a majesty and unity, which is unexcelled anywhere in art; and even his equals are not quite like him. He is alone.

But for me, he is also a master at depicting women - again in his own unique way. Let's get to the crux of the argument.

The Pieta. It's always the Pieta. You know this sculpture. I know this sculpture. Look again at her face.

Which property of femininity does this Mary not partake of? In physicality, she shows the soft curve of the jaw, the rounded cheeks, the oval face, the fine features, the luminous eyes. In character, she shows suffusion with emotion, pride in form, perception, self-possession. And in circumstance, she shows both maternal love and grief, and that awful maternal capacity to sustain them: the agony and ability to survive it which characterizes mothers alone. Like Michelangelo's talent, it is rarely matched, and when it is matched, it is never quite the same.

A similar profundity occurs in, for me, the other most notable women in Michelangelo's work, the Libyan and Delphic sybils:



Again, the bodies are expressive, but masculine. We must turn to the faces to find what we are looking for:

In Libica, we see knowledge, total knowledge, of what is in mortals - the good and the evil alike. And for all that, we see forgiveness as well. It is not the weak forgiveness of the optimistic and the ignorant; it is the deep forgiveness of the wise and the just. It is a forgiveness that shakes us in the scale of the horror it comprehends. For the same reason, it is the only forgiveness that can offer hope to us when we are caught, by our own trap, in our own darkest passage. This is the forgiveness that says, "Ruined man, I know your villainy, and you, even you, are not beyond the scope of redemption."

The expression of Delfica is difficult to read without bothering to find out the accompanying narrative, and I, for one, have not bothered to find it out. To me, her expression reads as the fear of a girl in flight. Her hair billows around her, her cheeks flush, her mouth opens in dismay, her eyebrows rise, her eyes widen. In short, she shows every part of that expression which causes men to leap, without needing to think, to offer protection. And yet this face sits atop a solid body, considering a scroll, seemingly one of a congregation of counselors, consulting with a colleague…

I have said little about Mary, about Libica, or about Delfica, which could not be said of a man as well. Femininity is not entirely reducible to signs and stories, to words and ideas. This quality is understood as an awareness, a distinction, that lives in the soul and heart and gut; if we could say it, we could work out the sum and close the ledger. We would not need paintings and sculptures to lead us past the point words fail. We would not need to train ourselves to know it and appreciate it when we encounter it.

Michelangelo shows a depth of adoration of the femininity of women which is quite so impressive, complex, and perceptive, as that of any more obviously woman-loving artist.

Now let's get back to this issue with the body, with the disjunction between the faces and bodies of his women. This is an issue which you could reasonably say puts him foursquare in the camp of those who separate body and soul, one of those icky Cartesians so out of fashion by now. It is a position equated with misogyny. We do not see Michelangelo doing such violence to his absolutely unified men, whose bodies are harmonious with their faces and expressions in one overpowering whole. The rift only occurs with women.

Well, that's fair. It's fair to say that Michelangelo's approach constitutes an attack against women. It's fair, but let me offer another way of looking at it.

This other option is - Michelangelo is not using this bizarre technique to attack women. He's using it to control men. I, as a man, can tell you that I am kind of turned on pretty much every waking hour (and some of the sleeping ones). I think to some extent this is true of most men, at least until that advanced age at which - who was it, Aristophanes? - sighed in relief that he was no longer driven mad all the time.

This state of being turned on is tremendously useful in many ways; it focuses the mind and enhances the will. It can be turned to any number of projects, apart from its own. But it is not a uniform blessing. It too readily assimilates appreciation to desire; it equates all that it is good to know, with all that it is needful to have. This is a distortion of the truth. Some things, many things, one would do well to know, without need of possessing.

Michelangelo's technique allows men to appreciate women, to study women, to get to know women, from the unnatural position of failing to need, in some way, even a small way, to possess them. Chastity is a difficult position, but Michelangelo gives it to his male viewers. Doing this, he gives them a world they can hardly ever enter: he allows them to encounter the feminine from that attitude of disinterest which, in men, is a necessary precursor to some of the most fundamental forms of love (ask Abelard). Chastity is not everything. As we see with Michelangelo, it definitionally shares many features with misogyny. But chastity is not nothing either; it is a perspective worth accomplishing.

As long as we're talking about women, I've just gotten done painting this one. This painting is really all about color and composition and form.

Absent Friends, 30"x24", oil on canvas

Happy new year, folks, and thanks for sticking with me. It's an honor to write for you.

UPDATE - Dec 27

I'm snowed under with work, so it's going to take me a little while to get to the replies to this post. But if you'd like to read a really good, well-written argument against the position I'm taking here, please check Claudia's comment. And if you like that, check out her wonderful blog, Museworthy. She's a fantastic model and writer who covers art, modeling, and life.


  1. Happy New Year to you, and that new painting is really lovely and luminous!

    I've always figured Michelangelo was gay. The magic you see in women, he saw in men. And if he was gay, his depiction of women does not need to be seen in terms of either misogyny or chastity, though perhaps you are speaking more of your own perception of the feminine through the work of Michelangelo.

    To me the Sybils are almost feminist works. They recognize in women a power that is both physical and spiritual, something that had heretofore been almost entirely reserved for depictions of the male. So even if Michelangelo used male models for these female images, as I'm pretty sure he did, he is according women the respect of showing them with human dimensions that nearly every artist previously had denied them. Perhaps other artists were blinded by their heterosexual attraction, or by their cultural chauvinism, but I think Michelangelo deserves some points here.

  2. I f-king LOVE that Bernini piece too...saw it in the flesh.There is nothing like the Rape of Sabine for passion in the arts. I've never come across anything more passionate. And Michelangelo's David (I think they are both at the Academia in Florence) The sexiest male sculpture (except that little wee-wee is too attention grabbing) You can always tell who enjoyed sex and sensuality in art and art history by the work (my opinion). My senile dog knocked over the portrait - which WAS almost finished... hope to finish later in the week now... loving the new pallet however. Good Yontov Daniel.

  3. I have to respectfully disagree with my dear friends Daniel and Fred, which is something I almost never do. Keep in mind that I am presenting the only viewpoint that I am qualified present - that of a woman and an artist's model.

    Michelangelo's flagrantly warped depictions of women's bodies are rationalized and explained often to the point of grasping at straws, only because he is Michelangelo. No such elaborate excuses would be granted an artist of lesser stature. I think we all know this. If John Doe artist had a painting on display in a gallery that depicted a semi-believable female face on a male bodybuilder's physique, and claimed it to be an entire female, we would likely all be skeptical and snickering at it. We'd all agree "That guy can't paint women". But Michelangelo gets away with it because he is Michelangelo, and all these assumptions about his true intentions are thrown about when in fact we have no idea if they are accurate. None of us will ever know what was going on in Michelangelo's head.

    Michelangelo's disdain for women is not a mystery. It's quite telling that his best female depictions are of Mary - virginal, untouched Mary. We can sit around and invent theories about how Michelangelo's butch women are really "empowering" portrayals or whatever. But the truth is that in art, the BODY matters. It matters tremendously. if it didn't matter I'd be out of a job. For all of us, our bodies are as much of who we are as anything else about us. Doing a fine job on a face and then attaching it to a clearly male frame is an offense not just to act of painting a female subject, but any human subject. Gender is not some irrelevant thing.

    I ask the male artists here, if you were painting a still life, would you paint a pear to substitute for an apple and then expect everyone to believe it as an apple? No, because it would cause confusion. Would you paint a dog's head on a lion's body and then expect everyone to believe it a dog? No. Better yet, if a lesbian artist were to paint "men" who were clearly physically female, because men and the male form repulse her, would she be granted the same benefit of the doubt that Michelangelo is granted? Of course not. She'd be labeled a "man-hating, feminist" painter and then dismissed.

    The subject of a work of art is still the subject, whether presented through Cubism, Realism, or whatever. That isn't the point. The point is that the blind idol-worship of Michelangelo prevents us from accepting the very plausible fact that, as a gay man, he was very likely uncomfortable with the female body and female sensuality, to the point where basic female anatomy was not even worth his attention. Guys, it is possible, you know, that Michelangelo could have been that petty. That misogynistic. He could, frankly, have been a little bitch. And here we are trying to attribute to this man loftier motives than he may have had in reality.

    Daniel, you make the point that Michelangelo was somehow enabling men to better appreciate women by erasing their femininity and thus eliminating the desire? Well, that's precisely what I'm objecting to. A woman is still a woman even if men are too out of control with their desires to absorb it artistically. To be blunt, that is men's problem, not ours. If men need women's femininity to be watered down or misrepresented so that they can, finally, connect and embrace us, then that's indulging male weakness and compromising women in the process. Like I said before, we wouldn't be engaging in any of this analysis if male subjects were depicted as women in art. I know plenty of male artists and many of them (not you Daniel or you Fred) are as sexist and chauvinistic as anybody else. They would not take kindly to such depictions. I'd bet on it.

    Personally, I hate the Sybils. I find them grotesque. If I never look at them again I'd be happy. I'd take "Absent Friends" any day of the week!


  4. Wow! Great discussion here. It was always my understanding growing up (ie, source unknown) that Michelangelo was one of the first visual artists to engage in cadaver dissection, at the time accomplished by paying grave robbers to bring you recently buried dead bodies, and that this helps to explain his extraordinary understanding of musculature. The same source rationalized that for reasons religious or otherwise, Michelangelo did not perform dissections on women, which would explain (though this seems silly) why his women are so manly. However, it's also entirely likely that if he was gay, he might not have seen many actual naked women, and would have preferred to paint and/or sculpt male models anyway. If you add in the misogyny of the time, which held that men were created a little lower than the angels and women a little lower than men, anyone who was trying to depict the perfect works of God would reasonably paint the "perfect" masculine figure onto a woman, rather than the "inferior" womanly figure we females actually have. All this being said in defense of Michelangelo, yes, his women are freaks. But his men... well, let's just say that even if he was a woman-hating jerk, gay or straight, I'd probably forgive him. :)

  5. Hey, you all, I'm sorry I can't write back right away! You have given me a lot to think about, and I am in the middle of a really busy stretch here. But I appreciate all the thoughts and I really enjoyed reading them. Oh, and Fred, I'm trying to figure out how to add your blog to my blogroll, but Blogspot is refusing to attach it. I'll keep trying.

  6. It would appear, Anonymous, that your test was successful!

    Y'all, I promise I'll add a cent or two as soon as I can...

  7. I read Claudia's thoughts yesterday and have been thinking about them since. I enjoy and respect both Dani's and Claudia's points of view here.

    Let me back up a bit. I've mentioned here before, I was an "art major" at a college that didn't have much of an art program. I wasn't challenged and really was barely taught at all in the studio, and was bored by art history. So I actually didn't know a lot about Michaelangelo and I found this whole apple chest problem a really interesting thing.

    So just learning about and seeing examples of this aversion to the feminine form was interesting to me (perhaps I should have paid attention in school after all). And Dani's point of view is fascinating as usual.

    And it's such a new topic for me, that learning of it, seeing it, and reading a thoughtful and artfully expressed analysis of it all at once initially made it easy for me to adopt Dani's point of view.

    However, I have to admit that I believe Claudia won me over. In part with clear and compelling statements like this:

    "If men need women's femininity to be watered down or misrepresented so that they can, finally, connect and embrace us, then that's indulging male weakness and compromising women in the process."

    I'm certain that, as an artist or a viewer of art, I am unable to fully separate the aspects of the female form that make the depiction of a woman visually fascinating and compelling, from the aspects that make that woman physically desirable. Maybe that's a weakness, maybe it's just another of a countless list of emotional facets that always effect how I view art. But regardless, it's my problem. And I do not object to being called on it with Claudia's well thought out discussion above.

    The only thing I'm certain of, actually, is that I greatly enjoy taking part in - or simply observing - a fascinating conversation between thoughtful, creative and eloquent individuals such as Dani and Claudia. The topic, your analysis and Claudia's brilliant counter, combine to make this one of my favorite of your blog topics.

  8. This is a great post, Daniel, and brings up something I noticed too. But, I agree with Claudia. God's don't make art, people do. And people have issues. Michelangelo may have been the greatest artist that ever walked the face of the earth, but he had issues. If some of his emotions about women came out in his art by design or not doesn't matter. No matter how you slice it, Michelangelo just was not good at depicting the female form.

  9. "information density, ... gone over like a lead balloon... see who is laughing in the end, ..I bite my thumb at thee." Ha! I fling a fig right back at thee! I am sure that I'm only one of the many million viewers that read carefully and whom were impressed beyond belief by your astute observations and the sweep and depth of you vision and whom subsequently were too speechless to post a reply. Ha! & actually I got sidetracked; Trying to bring 'white noise' (information zero) in to the equation wherein our minds find it necessary to add form and meaning where none exists.

    Angelic Mike: Hey, we do know that he adored his wet nurse, the wife of a stonecutter, perhaps she was a bit muscular (considering the times and the husband's trade), -a man with apples on her chest, and perhaps that was Mike's ideal woman. He did say something like; 'everything that is good in me I owe to my foster mother.

    His draped Madonnas are much closer to out 21th century ideals, of course and perhaps reflect his own, ever youthful, momma who died when he was 5 or 6.

    "Oh, I'm mostly interested in form and color and composition, the actual subject matter is really quite irrelevant." Ah yes, the one phrase of artspeak that always sells paintings; no matter what inanity the viewer spouts at you, you can always reply: "How very astute you are! You are the only one at this show that really understood what I was trying to say!" ;-)

  10. Jim your remark about our minds finding it necessary to add form and meaning where none exists reminds me of something cool I saw on TV once. An experiment was being done with precisely evenly spaced tones, and even though it took some people longer than others, in the end ALL the subjects discerned a pattern of unevenly spaced tones where none existed.

  11. OK, so, finally, I have a few minutes here.

    Fred - thank you for the new year's wishes and the kind words about the painting! I've heard the concept that Michelangelo was gay, but I've never read much about his actual life. It would be easy to extrapolate from the work that he favored men, but it would be easy to extrapolate from his filthy boots that he wasn't sleeping with anybody. Given the consistently underdeveloped genitalia of his male figures (compare Da Vinci's big-dick pictures and asshole pictures), I am almost inclined to see Michelangelo as essentially asexual, and his figures not so much as masculine, but as heroic-androgyne derived from masculine anatomy.

    I can see giving Michelangelo points for the sheer might of the sybils. But I also think I may be approaching this issue from the eisegesis perspective I was talking about before. More on this in replying to Claudia's comment.

    Lori - I have never seen that Bernini in person, I don't think! I've been to the Academy, so if it's there, I've somehow seen it and forgotten it. Could have been that I was too overpowered by the David, which really is different in person. Anyhow, I'm glad you like it too. And I thought your painting turned out terrific!

    Claudia - Our writing relationship started over a disagreement! Remember? Sargent's Madame X - I think I wrote a whole post about how much I disagreed with you! :)

    Anyhow, I can't disagree with anything you write about Michelangelo here. It could all be true - certainly the evidence supports it (plus Charlotte thinks you're right and I'm wrong - the rest of you, Charlotte's my wife, and she's pretty sharp). Your own feelings about what this means are also legitimate, and seem reasonable to me. I'm really glad you took the trouble to write this out, because I felt like I was giving short shrift to this side of the argument in my main post, possibly because I was arguing the reverse. But it struck me as incomplete without a really good defense of the more likely interpretation.

    So let me address your objection in two parts - one, with regard to what our knowledge of Michelangelo means, and the other, with regard to feelings about his work.

    I threw around the term eisegesis again just now - "reading into." It is becoming clear to me, in large part because I am writing all this out and bouncing ideas off of you and Fred and Ed, that I have an idiosyncratic attitude toward the utility of art. I don't necessarily care what the intention of the artist was. Even when the intention was clearly stated - I don't think artists are particularly the best interpreters of their own work, and who's to say that you have to use it the way they intended anyway? The way I see it, art is a kind of information-dense language full of resonance with regard to aspects of the human condition. So when I see a piece of art, it's like I'm finding a really useful tool on the ground; a kind of swiss army knife of the soul. And I have to go over and pick it up and say, "What can I do with this little doohickey here? What does this attachment do?" And what I come up with isn't necessarily what the swiss army would have wanted me to use their knife for, but it gets the job done.

    Applied to Michelangelo, that means that I am giving myself permission to say, "So who cares if he rogered musclemen all day and night? That's not so interesting to me - what's interesting is what I can get out of his work that teaches me the most." When I write, "Here's something you can do with Michelangelo," I guess I'm saying, "This isn't really what Michelangelo meant, but it's what he means to me."


  12. Now, about the feelings - I think it's probably clear enough by now that I think women are awesome, body and soul. And that's the approach I take in my work. But it remains a fact that when we sit down in a coffee shop, men and women, we are all wearing clothes, and not just because it's chilly out. It's not chilly in San Diego, but they're wearing clothes down there as well. I think this is a means of separating face and body. Virtually every culture does it, even if they're just wearing elaborate wooden socks over the particularly fun bits. This is the same as the chastity I was describing; it keeps us from getting distracted by one thing when we're trying to do another thing.

    Michelangelo is doing it in a particularly radical and bizarre way. The Dutch merchant's wife is still sexy and she makes all that black cloth curve in an exciting way. I have heard that it is possible, beneath the burka, to move in a noticeably sensual way. The only way to really eliminate the attractiveness of a woman is to make her wear a box. Michelangelo's women are wearing a box - a man's body - but they are still distinctly female.

    This all sounds, no doubt, almost neurotically, hysterically anti-woman. And it is very possible that this interpretation of Michelangelo's work is useful only to men. To me, Michelangelo doesn't read as misogynistic, but I am eager to take it on reason and faith that he does to you. I hope I have established my woman-loving bona fides, and my reasoning, enough for you to take it on faith from me that the state of mind Michelangelo, almost alone among artists, can induce, is a useful and loving point of view for a man to be able to enter into. It should not be the only, or even the dominant, point of view. But it is a kind of mental discipline that is worth knowing. You might say, "But physical desire is a natural part of outlook, and outlook is distorted without it." But I hope you can also say, "Well, maybe physical desire is different in men and women, and what is useful for men to learn may be different from what is useful for women to learn."

    I feel like I'm writing stuff that's making you tear your hair out and say, "You don't *get* it!" I know how well integrated your awareness is with your body, and how offensive it is for you to consider the concept of self without most of the body. Let me phrase this whole thing another way. Let's say that two people have different sensitivities to light. Eve can look at the sun and say, "What a glorious thing! How magnificent!" Adam looks at it and says, "It's blinding me!" So Adam puts on red sunglasses, and Eve says, "Idiot! You're seeing only a little bit of the beauty of the sun! And it's the wrong color!" And Adam says, "I am not seeing all of it, but I am seeing the part of it I am able to see." And Eve says, "You should look at the whole thing." And Adam says, "When I do that, it overwhelms my eyes, and I end up not seeing anything at all. Let me look at just this one part that I can sustain." And Eve says, "What kind of a punk are you, that you can only see a part of it? Don't you love the sun?" And Adam says, "Honey, our eyes are made differently."

    All men aren't Adam all the time, but I think most men are Adam some of the time - and that's the time for Michelangelo.


  13. Synamore - I don't have the same sources as you, but do you know the funny story of Vesalius and the dead mistress of the Paduan monk? (that should be enough keywords for you to google it) It's like the most disgusting dirty joke ever, and it makes mincemeat of Freud's argument about Vesalius's male-looking depiction of the female genitalia. Anyhow, your reasoning is sound, even if it goes to the "what Michelangelo meant" position, which as I've been saying, is one of those things I'm proudly ignorant of. I'm glad you like his men though. They are some smokin' men.

    Ed, I don't know what kind of an art major you were, but I kind of feel like you're thoroughly caught up now, so you can quit apologizing. As you know, I've learned a lot from your comments on these posts, and I respect you, I'm sure, quite as much as you respect me.

    I'm glad you found my argument interesting and worth considering. As for coming down on Claudia's side, all I have to say is, "Hey! I thought we were friends!" Judas. Anyhow, I think it is totally valid to come down on Claudia's side. I am half on Claudia's side myself. But I am also half on my side. I'm pretty sure I'm currently convinced that both arguments are correct. I'm awfully glad you continue to find the discussion here interesting and worthwhile.

    Kevin - you bet he sucked at it. Your comment leads toward a post I've been mulling over for a while, and I think that soon it will be time to write it out, having to do with personal issues coming through in one's art. I think this is a fascinating and important topic. So I apologize that my reply to you is incomplete for now; I want to save the best stuff for the post.

    Jim - Oh! Well, I stand corrected. Although me and my friend Google Analytics can tell you that when you say "millions" you probably mean "a couple dozen." :) But I'm glad you found that post interesting. White noise is a good case, and I had thought about writing about it. I used to stare at white noise on television when I was little, allowing complex three-dimensional structures to emerge and move in it. It's not actually information zero in the weird system I was proposing - it has a very high information content. It just doesn't represent anything. And that does really interesting things to the brain, as you suggest.

    I didn't know that stuff about Michelangelo and his wet nurse! I knew one or two of his dismissive remarks about women, but I didn't take them seriously, because clearly he's a grumpy asshole who lashes out at anyone unfortunate enough to get in a room with him. He probably said some choice things about dogs and Jews as well.

    Oh, you know what, let me go back to something Claudia said - Claudia, are you still here? - the madonna wasn't Michelangelo's greatest woman! She was one of three, for my money - the madonna, libica, and delfica. How libica and delfica did in their personal lives, I don't know.

    Jim - if you want to elaborate on the 21st century ideal concept, I'd be interested to hear. Do you mean physically? As a kind of skinny, athletic madonna, and not the curvy lady of the period?

    Artspeak! I need to get better at that.

    Ed, that makes a lot of sense, about the tones. I've had a similar experience driving in whiteout conditions, although of course I had the added fun of knowing that the stupid tricks my brain was pulling were probably going to kill me.

  14. I think Claudia's position is easily debunked by looking at how Michelangelo depicted infants and children in his work. There you will also see more muscularized, masculine bodies with less developed faces. Here are some examples:

    It's obvious to me that Michelangelo was just more interested in evoking a sense of power and vitality through his figures than he was in titillating his audience with more accurate depictions of the female body. In the examples by Bernini, it's interesting that the more accurate and sensual depictions of the female body are deemed more appropriate for two works in which a female is about to be raped. Does this mean that Bernini was or wasn't a misogynist? We'll never know for certain but it doesn't really matter.

    - A

  15. Anonymous - your point is well taken, but I'd love it if you dialed down the edge in your tone; Claudia's a friend of mine, and apart from your argument, which seems like a fair one to me, I think she's got a strong point as well, and one that can be backed up with a fair amount of art historical data on Michelangelo himself (I do know more art history than I like to let on. just not much more).

    As for Bernini, it's another good point, and one I didn't bring up; although we could argue that his St. Theresa, which is more erotic, is not about rape at all. Although we could also argue that it is. Bernini's personal life involves wild oscillation between loving and hating women, including some of the most heinous brutality on record. I ponder the relationship between Bernini the man and Bernini the artist quite a bit; it's troubling.

  16. late to the party, but good lord! thanks *artmodel*

    I very very doubt that any artist would try to tone down feminine beauty (or any other kind of beauty) for the sake of male attention deficit.

    I was told in humanities class that there were more male models available for posing and not so many female. I've always thought that was the reason. granted, that was community college...

    but still, this whole discussion takes my breath away. I'm speechless at the thought that this could somehow be true.

  17. Sorry Jade, you have to show up in a timely way if you want to be contentious.

    >I very very doubt that any artist would try to tone down feminine beauty (or any other kind of beauty) for the sake of male attention deficit.

    Well, I don't know about motive, but Van Dyke is one of my favorites for this. Check out the line of buttons down the front of the dress in this painting. Feminine, and yet in no wise conforming with any recognizable female body (not unlike the girl robot in Wall-E):

    >but still, this whole discussion takes my breath away. I'm speechless at the thought that this could somehow be true.

    Which bit?

  18. nice painting, also kinda sexy, but not toned down I dont think. weird shaped dress, but I think that was the fashion? anyway, I'll stay current and start arguing about beauty or whatever. (j/k, I enjoyed the current post)

  19. Jade - sorry for the long delay! Who cares if it was the fashion? Any artist worth their salt can manipulate a sitter and fashion to do virtually anything. I think the painting is sexy, but I'm not depending on any of the usual signifiers for my opinion - Van Dyke has taken them all away. I'm glad you enjoyed the beauty post!

  20. I know this comment is very late to the game.

    I don't expect anyone else to see it.

    But I want the author to know that I have a new appreciation for Michaelangelo's depiction of the feminine. This is a perspective I had not considered.

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much - I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I really like your screen name.