Framing Women in the Renaissance

1.  This article reinforces many of the themes that we have discussed so far in this course, particularly the lack of neutrality of the gaze.  Through what methodological lenses does Simons view the issue of gender in profile portraits created in the Renaissance?

2.  The portraits in this article are seen in the context of the display culture of Quattrocento Florence. Discuss.

3.  In the discussion of woman as an object of exchange, her appearance was carefully calculated to foster her  transfer at the time of marriage; I found the comparison of the profile portrait to a still life positively chilling because it was so apt!

4.  Wives and nuns, the only two Quattrocento options for women, both defined women in relationship to a male.  How do these portraits perpetuate this system or contradict it?

5.  What led to the eventual demise of the profile portrait?

6.  On p. 15  Simons states: “Visual art…both shared and shaped social language and need not be seen as a passive reflection of pre-determining reality. For the representation of women, the profile form, and its particulars were well suited to the construction, rather than reflection, of an invisible ‘reality’.”  In what other art historical cases has this been demonstrated?

7.  It strikes me as ironic that the origins of the profile portrait are traced to dead men and male rulers.  What has the female appropriation done to the prototype.

8.  Are all portraits “anatomizing” in the end?

9.  There is so much in this article to discuss!!!  The optic fear of the woman’s gaze, the Medusa syndrome, the forced passivity of these portraits, and then calling Dr. Freud!

10.  Do you see any danger in discussing these portraits in light of scopophilia, castration anxieties, fetishisation, or the proto-panopticon?

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7 responses

  1. 1. I found it particularly interesting that Simons states that she is attempting to escape the Freudian concept of the gaze. As far as her reference to film theory goes, I bet that she is referencing Laura Mulvey, who I think it relevant to this article, specifically because many of Mulvey’s writings concentrate on the gaze placed on women in film frames.

    2. It seems that the term “trophy wife” does not even begin to touch what these poor women experienced.

    3. I agree. Especially in the reading of the portrait of Ludovica, where she wears her family emblem.

    4. I think the patronage of the bride portraits is especially relevant to the relationship between the portrait and the male gaze.

    6 Classical sculpture attempted to do the same thing in ancient greece and rome. I also think of Nefertiti. The modern day notion of photoshopped photos. They construct rather than reflect the non-existent reality of visual perfection.

    7. I think the article addressed this issue in that sometimes portraits of females in profile can be read as powerful, but I think it really has to do with the presence of an exchange of power that determine if a profile portrait gives or takes away power from the sitter.

    8 I think the term anatomizing applies mostly to portraits that involve some sort of economic exchange. Maybe they all are in that portraits generally attempt to show off the best attributes of a person.

    9 I find the castration fear associated with the female gaze once again places the definition of woman in the negative or the “lack of a penis” in relation to a man. The one power she has in this scenario, the power to castrate, also takes away rather than adds.the article states it well in that women who lack the power to paint a portrait of themselves, gaze averted, become the absence of an absence

    10 I thought it was ingenious to talk about the panopticon in relation to the male gaze and Renaissance “window” portraiture. Very cool.

  2. There are a few passages that I’d like to discuss in class…

    “Like nuns and donors, the women portrayed in profile are displayed and visible objects, and yet they are removed from ‘worldly distractions’. They are inactive objects gazing elsewhere, decorously averting their eyes. In this sense they are chaste, if not virginal, framed if not (quite) cloistered. However, unlike nuns, these idealized women are very much not ‘beyond the gaze of men’.” (12)
    How are we to treat these women as objects? What does gaze do to the women?
    The topic of women as objects, especially as objects to display, repeats throughout the article.

    What is the role of visual language?
    “Visual art, it can be argued, both shared and shaped social language and need not be seen as a passive reflection of pre-determining reality.” (15)
    “Through the regulatory language of facial display, all women were sexually labelled and controlled.” (16)

    Part of me is angry! Women are not objects to be controlled! Yet I am happy to read this critical look at how women were framed and how that related to their role in society (good or bad).

  3. Also, the last line is killer.
    “The male gaze continued in its triumphant potency while the female gaze remained repressed: one reason, we may speculate, why the female artist has, until very recently, been a rare creature.” (24)
    OMG! This is profound. This is definitely dissertation topic worthy in my book.

  4. I think that Lola’s point about the unrealistic images of women, be they sculptures, portraits, or photo-shopped images is especially important in forming a deeper understanding of the profound effects of the male gaze upon men’s perceptions of women and, more importantly, women’s perceptions of themselves.

    The idea of women as decorative objects in a painting is so disturbing. More disturbing is the fact that this “ideal” often carries over into reality. It could be argued that, rather than portraiture, these paintings are “still lifes” capturing something that is not seen as real, vital, or even human.

    I too find the closing sentence to be particularly galvanizing! The most upsetting component of this sentence is that it so relates to modern perceptions of femininity. While leaps and bounds have been made in the realm feminism, this article brings to a head the importance of recognizing that this work is never truly over!

  5. I really enjoyed this article. I was especially interested in the anatomizing of the women depicted in portraits and how that was used to create a new, imaginary ideal. I have a love-to-hate relationship with images of women before and after photoshop, and it was interesting to think of these portraits in a similar way.

    I also appreciate the discussion of the female gaze, or lack thereof.

    Some interesting links:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/nefertiti-recipient-of-the-worlds-first-successful-facelift-2083297.html

    http://jezebel.com/photoshop-of-horrors/

  6. I am so excited that this article generated so many thoughtful remarks. For the author to progress from the notion of the female as virtual still life object to the panopticon idea is a thrilling ride and one that demonstrates how beautifully the formal and theoretical “arms” of art history conspire to create compelling art historical tales!

  7. Oh, no! Somehow my comments didn’t post last night. I’m not sure if it was Avery’s new (awful) wifi or I just didn’t let it fully load, but here’s basically what I thought I postes last night. Sorry guys!

    “A bearer of her natal inheritance and an emblem also of her conjugal line once she had entered the latter’s boundaries, a woman was an adorned Other who was defined into existence when she entered patriarchal discourse primarily as an object of exchange.” (9) –> Interesting passage

    I was really struck by the story about Marco who was “never satisfied” with having new garments made for his bride, but then had them unravelled and the gems sold. It’s interesting to think that even the possessions that were said to be a bride’s are never really her own.

    Like Ellie, the passage on 12 that compares the women to nuns and pronounces them as objects, also grabbed my attention.

    I know it’s a long quote, but I really liked this section:
    “Visually, the strict orderliness of the profile portrait can be seen as a surprising contradiction of contemporary misogynist literature. Supposedly ‘inconstant’, like ‘irrational animals’ without ‘any set proportion’, living ‘without order or measure’, women were transformed by their ‘beauty of mind’ and ‘dowry of virtue’ into ordered, constant, geometrically proportioned and unchangeable images, bearers of an inheritance which would be ‘precious’ to their children. A woman, who was supposedly vain and narcissistic, was nevertheless made an object in a framed ‘mirror’ when a man’s worldly wealth and her ideal dowry, rather than her ‘true’or ‘real’ nature, was on display.” (13)

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