Archive for July, 2015

Woman Knitting (n.d.)

Dear friends and readers,

For our fifth subject, we have a woman painter about whom little is known. Her portraits are not of upper-class people, she does not reach any lessons, nor attempt to entertain or amuse. Her paintings fall under the rubric of “absorption” so long ago described by Michael Fried (“Absorption: A Master Theme in French 18th century painting, ECS, 9:2 [1975-76]:139-77); by contrast, one could also say (as Nochlin does) that Duparc’s gift was for “the fleeting moment of evocative expression.” Duparc is said to have died leaving 41 paintings in her studio; only four works are surely attributed to her. Thus we are fortunate in that my sources provide 5 reproductions, though two in black-and-white, and one doubtful. I choose her for the reason I started this project: I love what I have been able to see. She has deep feeling for the life and humanity of ordinary people.

My favorite is “La tricoteuse” above. Those who’ve seen her paintings testify to a “vivid immediacy.” I see the canvas breathing with flesh and blood-filled life. Just look at her soft-cloth working class clothes; her full body; the flesh tones match the tones of her clothes in another reproduced version. Duparc’s work (like Rosalba Carriera, but with less justification) has been likened to Chardin’s; to Greuze (but there is nothing salacious or titillating, no voyeurism); there is likeness to Nicolas Bernard Lepicie, only his subjects pose in front of us.

A Man with a sack of nuts (L’homme a la besace) who looks out at us shyly, with a self-contained self-deprecating yet slightly sad expression on his face; he is no longer young (n.d)

She was born in Murcia, Spain on October 15, 1726. Her father, Antoine Duparc was a sculptor who had come from Marseilles in 1720, married Gabrielle Negrela; they returned to Marseilles in 1730. Francoise was probably educated in her father’s studio. A couple of sources say she studied under Jean Baptiste van Loo (1684-1768), who worked in Aix-en-Provence in 1731, had studied in Paris and Italy, was in Marseilles twice (1735-36, 1742-45). However if so, she followed a different path; the story that Van Loo thought a painting by her was a copy of one by him is told by C.F. Achard in a book about illustrious men from the provinces. She is said to have moved from Marseilles to Paris, lived there with a sister, Josephe-Antonia, also a gifted painter. She appears to have had a brother of whom she was very fond who died young. Rumor also hath it she visited London, and there are records of exhibits of 3 paintings by Mrs Duparc in London in 1763, and again in 1766. But in both cases solid evidence is lacking and is contradictory. There is a record of her again in Marseilles in 1771, that she was made a member of the local academy in 1776; made her will in April 1778, when she is described as in bad bodily health. She died October 11, age 52.

Duparcs’ extant paintings combine portraiture with genre (domestic occupation). First, she Duparc endows her figures with great personal dignity. The seller of tisane (herbal tea, n.d.) looks at us as she works with a metal strainer:


The “Old Woman” (n.d.) turns to the right, crosses her reddened arms and hands; she might be a servant, with a natural reserve. In all these paintings there is great care in transmitting a quality of thick cloth.


In Billioud’s discussion he tries to make neat patterns of complementary iconography (old and young), but from these four it does not seem to me there is any attempt at neat parallels and contrasts.

The source for what is known is Joseph Billioud, “Un peintre des types populaires: Francoise Duparc de Marseilles (1726-1778), Gazette des beaux-arts, 20 (1938):173-84; a secondary source is the enthusiastic Philippe Auquier, “An Eighteenth Century Painter: Francoise Duparc,” Burlington Magazine, 6 (1905):477-78 (much gush and some leads, meaning paintings of English noblemen cited, but the evidence presented suggests they are not hers!). My main sources for reliable information, images and commentary thus far come from Ann Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550-1950 (pp. 171-73); Karen Peterson and J.J. Wilson, Women Artists (p 50); Nancy Heller, Women Artists.

Not unrelated: Maureen Mulvihill has alerted me to a coming conference on early modern women artists (scroll down for English; reprinted in my comments).


The “Head of a Young Woman” is in poor condition, and used to be attributed to Jean-Baptiste Greuze; Roger Gaud attributed it to Duparc. The lighting, facing frontwards, quietude seem like Duparc’s others, but the direct gaze where she accosts us seems to me more like Greuze. She is another figure who looks out at us shyly, but smiles.



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Wybrand Hendriks (Dutch painter, 1744-1831) Old Woman Reading
Wybrand Hendriks, Old Woman Reading (Dutch, 1744-1831)

Dear friends and readers,

I almost made a Freudian slip and typed as the the title of Goodman’s bok, Becoming a Woman of Letters in the 18th century, for that is what this book is about. It’s just the book I needed to put together a paper on Anne Grant, Elizabeth Grant Smith and if not Anne Home Hunter, Anne Radcliffe — who also wrote a journal book and left a journal-diary whose entries are letter-like. I may substitute Radcliffe for Anne Home Hunter if my emphasis moves from Scots women to women forging connections as such. Naturally,I recommend it.

The cover picture of Goodman’s book is the same tired image I’ve seen on so many 18th century books about French women, Adelaide Labille-Guiard‘s Portrait of a Woman, so despite its appropriateness and lovely colors,


I led with a much less familiar image of a woman avidly reading — as if her life depended upon this.

A review of Goodman’s book appeared in the latest issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 48:4 (546-47). I want to emphasize from Aurora Wolfgang’s brief account, that writing was for women of the 18th into 19th century “a transformational practice,” where they both developed a consciousness for themselves (an identity we might say) and spoke to both private and public worlds out of their own private world (writing self) and public knowledge. Goodman debunks the stereotype of women as reading and writing love letters primarily; she developed her role as a teacher, mother and legitimized active participation and autonomy. The writing desk, her closet, the learning what are one’s innermost thoughts through the use of language, using reason, knowledge (her reading), and sensibility. Sensibility is only one part of this even if this is a “gendered sense of subjectivity.”

Goodman covers the manufacture of supply too: pens, paper, furniture for the modern person (like a desk), books of illustrations to study.

The writer and reader reached out to embed themselves in social networks of friends and family and book illustrations too.

Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) — and woman illustrator

Goodman analyzes over a 100 such illustrations; her central women writers are Genevieve de Malboissiére, Manon Phlipon, Catherine de Saint-Pierre, and Sophie Silvestre.

Other reviews: Maire Fedelma Cross, French History 24:2 (2010):292-93; from Cornell’s website.

A small connection which may seem foolish but is a defense of good historical. In Graham’s Poldark novels when Demelza learns to write and uses her skill to connect Verity to Blamey, to communicate with others, to be herself, she is enacting what Goodman claims for women of this era. I regret to say I’ve not been able to locate any snaps or stills of Eleanor Tomlinson teaching herself to read (they are probably fleeting). These are taken from Graham’s book. What is emphasized in both historical films is Demelza teaching herself to play the piano. Reading is still a suspect activity?

I’ve bought the book used from Amazon, and await its arrival eagerly.


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Antoine Watteau, fellow painter (1721) — with withdrawn look (the banner for this blog comes from one of Watteau’s paintings)

A Self Portrait as Winter (pastel 1731)

Dear friends and readers,

For the first round within the long 18th century for my project I’ll cover three women painters: the era is one of the focuses of this blog; its social worlds fostered many women painters, and a number of individual careers outside of the woman’s family life — though (alas) successfully discouraging most women (not all) from landscape and history painting. I’ve chosen one obscure (Francoise Duparc), one whose still-lifes are unfamiliar to many (Anne Vallayer-Coster), and one known whose work has been likened to Chardin’s: Rosalba Carriera. Her work is also a product of the Venetian culture she was part of, its tone, outlook, art genres.

The three for this time excel in 2 types of painting typically done by women in this era: the portrait, sometimes of themselves or unknown people and the still-life. Genre and conversation scenes and Roman and Greek classical figures are found more in the French (e.g, Marguerite Gerard, Angelica Kauffmann) and British (e.g., from Diana Spencer, View of Windsor, to Amelia Hotham in the 1790s, real landscape and watercolors, some inspired by travel far abroad, viz., Lady Anne Barnard from India). I will blog not just on separate women artists but kinds of art especially when the woman left only one or two paintings or really little is known about her. (My books include this sort of approach too.) In the 18th century women artists profited from the what has been (exaggeratedly) called the “reign of women” (in Paris people sometimes neglect to add); but if they did not reign, they were seen as central to social life, encouraged when artistic, and in Paris had Marie Antoinette to patronize those who came near her court. Carriera was a portraitist and painted herself movingly and frankly at different stages of her life and one of her beloved sisters.


She advanced the technical possibilities of pastel portraiture: oil pigments were mixed with filler, bound with gum, allowing for a fuller range of delicate nacreous effects, a fuller range of shades — she could paint very quickly too. She is said to have inspired Maurice Quentin de la Tour.

A young girl — my favorite of all her pieces, a miniature


Her miniatures were noted particularly for severe accuracy of drawing, united with rare softeness and delicacy of touch; they had the perfection of proportion, and the brilliancy and warmth of coloring for which her pastels were remarkable. Her tints were blended with great tenderness; her heads had a lovely expression of truth and nature (quoted in Fine, p 20)

Like Gentileschi and Van Hemmensen, she was a successful painter. Born October 7, 1675, daughter of a poor public official and lace-maker who she drew patterns for, painted miniatures and decorated snuff-boxes, which attracted a clientele. It’s for this kind of work her career took off:


Her extraordinary talent was noticed and developed. She took lessons from Guiseppe Dalmantini, Antonio Balestra, later the miniaturist, Coll, was accepted in the Accademia San Luca in 1705. Her likeness to Chardin is not only in her use of elegant taste (“le gout moderne”) and decorums of the era, but her depiction people also with expressive features, unassuming, warm and involved in their own activities. This made her popular when she went to Paris. Urged to come by a prominent French banker and art collector, Pierre Crozat; it was a triumphant year in which she met famous French artists (Watteau), did a portrait of Louis XV. It did not hurt that she played the violin. She was unanimously elected to the Royal Academy of Painting in 1720; this was not startling as four women had been elected in the 1720s (e.g., Sophie Cheron). She was said to be shy, and stayed within her family except when invited to fetes. Across her life, she is recorded as traveling, receiving commissions from rulers of Bavaria, the Palantine, Denmark, Saxony, Vienna, Dresden, Stockholm. There are more than 150 pastels in the Dresden Gemaldegalerie.

She moved back to live permanently in Venice from 1721 on. She chose never to marry and remained close to her family and sisters; Giovanna was a constant companion and assistant. Angela married a painter met through her sister. It was in 1738 that after the death of Giovanni from TB, that Rosalba became gravely ill. It seems her sister’s death precipitated some kind of[psychosomatic crisis, and she lost her sight (1745), from which she partially recovered but not enough to paint again. By 1747 she had undergone some operations (including cataract surgery) to try to restore her sight, but these failed by 1749, leaving her depressed. She died 8 years later (April 15, 1757). She had kept a journal of which some survives, called “curiously untelling;” in her will she asked that her private papers be burnt.

A haunting late life portrait when she might have been becoming blind (1745-47?)

I offer a few images to suggest something of her range and limitations: psychological depth and particularity in the face, flattery and banal acceptance:

Charles Duke of Dorset — while on tour, posing, full of himself

A naturalistic portrait of an elderly lady, warm colors, relaxed but clearly sees herself as a distinguished personage —

Her allegorical figures are serene, with delicate tones, rococo in style, but daring in conception:

Flora — her breasts bared; Venice was known for its courtesan milieus

America (!), with suggestive feathers in her hair, arrow in her hand, intricate Venetian jewelry; she has a quizzical expressiveness and looks strong (this probably does not reflect a squaw’s life at all; indeed a real squaw’s life is far from Carriera’s mind)

Carriera’s portraits of particular people show a careful use of color, meticulousness for their clothing, a flattering of their faces (which sometimes flattens them so they lose individuality): she had a real financial need.

She supported herself by her portraits.

Cardinal Melchior de Poignac (1732) — a dignified figure on a brown background

Young woman of the Leblond family (?1730) — she painted many women, here we have a young girl in a boy’s outfit (the way Marie Antoinette was later painted) — smooth fleshy skin, wispy wig, cool

Louis XV as a boy

Her appeal for me is in (as Elsa Honig Fine puts it) “her capacity for interpreting the human face with an often brutal honesty” (especially I’ll add of herself):


Borzello says of the above this is among the first portraits by a woman artist of a woman in older age; I suggest this comes out of the era’s look into the natural self; another is by Anna Dorothea Therbusch (Polish, 1721-82), also of herself



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A contemporary illustration (John Edmund Buckley) for Marmion (Scott used to be seen as Austen’s rival)

Dear friends and readers,

A third short blog, just to announce I’ve put onto my site at Academia.edu, a copy of the comparative review of the two Cambridge Companions to Jane Austen (1997 and again 2011) I wrote for ECCB, which will appear in due time (I hope), either this fall or next spring.

Another of the Cambridge Publications

I’ve already blogged on the individual essays in the two volumes, summarizing and evaluating them individually, but have been asked for a quick overview several times now so thought this pre-publication appropriate.

The Place setting for Mary Wollstonecraft from Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party (Austen did not make the cut) — How we contextualize her today


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Amelia Hoffman, 18th century landscape painter (included in the book below)

I’ve come across an older book with excellent illustrations placed on the Net on the history of women painters from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. While it evinces older attitudes and prefaces the “problem” that we can find women painters, but they are never as good at painting as men, there are names and pictures here not in my books.


Each new image, new name drudged out matters.

A friend who has been following my project sent me these contemporary pictures by women from the Persephone site to be added to the canon (if I may call it that) of women painters:


It interests me that until the 19th century women were told they were no good at landscape; it was somehow not suitable, but once they were allowed, they often love landscape best of all.

(c) Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Alice Maud Fanny (ca 1920): The Seaside Brighton and Hove Museums


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Beaumarchais (Will Liverman) and Marie Antoinette (Melinda Whittington) to the right and Susannah and Figaro (Morgan Pearse, Sarah Larsen) to the left

Dear Friends and readers,

I feel I should report here on the recent production of the second operatic adaptation of the third of Beaumarchais’s famous Figaro trilogy, La Mere Coupable, has been adapted twice. The first by Darius Milhaud, an apparently reasonably faithful production is very briefly described on Wikipedia. The second commissioned by the Metropolitan opera, music by John Corigliano and libretto by William M. Hoffman, first played using the full text in 1991 at the Met in New York City. It has since been much reduced in size, scope, number of player-actors needed and was performed this summer at Wolf Trap as the second of two linked operas (see At Wolf Trap: The Marriage of Figaro.

I regret to have to say from the evidence of this production, the opera is in fact embarrassingly poor; the best one can say of it is perhaps it’s meant as a sort of vulgar post-modern parody of opera. The value of reporting this truth will be in suggesting that someone should return to the first adaptation or produce a seriously work of operatic music and story. The Washington Post review admits (sort of) it’s pretty bad, spoken of what is so desirable to do (but not done), but I suggest Izzy’s concise review is accurate. As she says, she majored in music (and her masters thesis was on the 18th century baroque composer, Handel), so she was eager to see what the department chair suggested was interesting, and then was disappointed.

From the current Wolf Trap production — a typical messy moment

It is true that musically the best moments were those where the composers self-consciously imitated beautiful music from The Marriage of Figaro (in the same place — so the Countess and Susanna have a beautiful duet at the opening of the second of two acts). For me, though, what made the experience tedious was not so much that the new opera is unfaithful to the original text (turning its story into background material) nor even its reversal of the original politics (I thought to myself how Burke would have loved with worship of “Antonia”), but the pastiche quality of it. It was a self-conscious sequel, where we were asked sometimes to put some emotional investment in what we were seeing, which felt impossible because of the jarring awkward sudden relapses into jocular modern English. I was also astonished to see the kind of orientalism Said described brought right back in some central scenes said to occur in Turkey. You could argue well, they mean to burlesque these stereotypes; no they didn’t. The “mash-up” Enchanted Island the Met did some years ago worked, was splendid, with rousing and beautiful music, playful. This descended into vulgar leering.

That Izzy and my reaction was common was made obvious by the tepid applause. In most productions nowadays audiences feel it incumbent upon them to stand to applause, so that not standing becomes unusual — a decided sign of a lack of enthusiasm. That’s what happened here. And consider the title: what a missed opportunity.


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Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting (1630)

Her words for herself in a letter dated 1649: ‘Caesar’s spirit in a woman’s soul’

Judy Chicago’s Illuminated Letter for Artemisia’s place setting (The Dinner Party)

Dear friends and readers,

Though one purpose of these sketches and offerings of images is to call attention to either relatively or just about wholly unknown (erased) women painters and artists, I felt it would be perverse to choose another 17th century painter for my first round. Gentileschi’s pictures are so extraordinary, I have a couple of superb sources (Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque, by a host of art scholars, the catalogue and essays from an exhibition put on by the National Gallery of Women’s Art) and there are plenty of people who’ve never heard of her despite a moving autobiographical novel by Anna Banti (Artemisia, by Lucia Lopresti — yes she used a pseudonym), from which a film was made (by Agnes Merlet); several scholarly biographical and art studies (e.g., Mary Garrard’s Artemisia Gentileschi), individual essays [I will come back later to add a bibliography], a popular American novel (by Susan Vreeland). She even made the cut for Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party:


The key event of Gentileschi’s life about which there is much documentation is a series of rapes: Agostino Tassi, Orazio Gentileschi (yes a painting father and workshop)’s apprentice or partner repeatedly raped her, her father publicly accused him of rape, and a trial. Mary Garrard reprints the whole of the extant papers and letters (in English as well as Italian) which provide a searing look into the daily behavior and mores of the era. Gentileschi was accused of being “a whore” herself: she did succumb to allowing this apprentice to fuck her again either in the hope he would marry her or because poor girl she had fallen in love with him; it was only months later that her father became aware of what had happened. Also involved was a woman who lived with the family in a role common in this period: a servant as chaperon who was also supposed to help find Artemisia a marriage partner, to broker it. At one point one of Tassi’s hanger-ons attempted to gang-rape Artemisia. As all that happened to her ever after was shaped by this public trial and what was said, for the rest of both their lives, Gentileschi and her father paid for their attempt at restitution and revenge. Artemisia was herself tortured at one point to make her “tell” the truth and test the truth of what she said.

Many of her pictures include violence, trauma, anger and sevral famously behead a man from a story in the Bible: here is her tour de force Judith slaying Holofernes painted after the trial:


What may escape the modern viewer is that here we find Artemisia as the first female artist daring to paint a large-scaled historical and religious subject. I feel a sardonic humor in her choice of a subject which by the definitions of allowable historical and religious she could. Note the man’s agonized face, his terrific reddish color, the wrinkles of his skin, the blood trickling down the sheet, the way he is turned as Judith struggles to behead him.

She had done a Judith and her maidservant dated as just before this, where we find his head in a basket, a sort of image from a mirror, much more subdued lyrical using parallels in details of dress, soft browns, beiges, as the woman look about them, this time Judith fearful at being found out:



Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome July 8, 1593, Orazio’s first child; like his friend, mentor, rival, the great theatrical Baroque painter Caravaggio, Orazio came to Rome to make a name for himself; his wife gave birth to several sons, three were apprentice painters, but her father saw his daughter excelled them, and trained her in easel painting while he worked on large frescoes. According to Stefania Biancanio, Artemisia “could skillfully grind pigments, boil oils, paint small commissions;” he used her face for portraits. Meanwhile his wife and her mother died in childbirth in 1605.

It was around the time she was 17 she painted Susannah and the Elders:


As Germaine Greer remarks, the woman is not there to excite sexual arousal; but show us an originally strong, muscular and sensual woman in the prime of life “crumpled against the cruel stone of the coping” (Greer 191), driven into “ruinous complicity” with her vulture enemies.

Unfortunately, Orazio allowed Agostino Tassi to give her more advanced training. Records show that Agostino had already boasted he had murdered his wife, raped his sister-in-law, beat up prostitutes regularly. Yet he was socially acceptable. He resisted Orazio’s demand he marry her. That is when this unheard-of kind trial (her father had to have known how hostile would be everyone to such truths about the way women were treated) began. It is important to remember that against all odds, she won the case; Tassi was exiled. But the public attitude was utterly hostile to these judges, and in 1614 one semi-champion (whom Greer said had been Tassi’s friend), a Florentine, Giambatista Stiattesi, married her and took her to Florence. It was then she painted Judith Slaying Holofernes, and was commissioned by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, commissioned her to paint “Inclination” as a ceiling decoration for the Casa Buonarroti.

Biancanio says there were eight years of intense creativity, and she was matriculated into the Academia del Designo, the first woman ever accepted, and of profound importance to her professional career and self-esteem. She was now freed from a need to be part of a guild, she could buy pigments on her own (before she could not), sign contracts on her own; she had autonomy from father, husband, and later her sons. She bore four children, two daughers (Prudentia and Palmira) by Stattsei and moved to Rome to make a living for herself and her children. Her family included her two sisters and two maids. In 1626 she is in Genoa, 127 Venice, and then she dared to try her luck in Naples (a different and southern hispanic Italian culture), in 1630 opening a huge studio. In 1638 Charles I invited her to England. Braving wars, plagues and pirates, she took her household and rejoined her father there and they collaborated on a commission for the Queen’s house in Greenwich. It was an allegory of peace and the arts (now in Marlborough House, London). She is said to have met Anthony Van Dyck in 1622. When her father died eight years later, she returned to Naples. While in England, she had excited ignorant “repellent” gossip (Greer).

The atmosphere of her last years can be called “a twilight” (Biancano’s word) of success and loss: from these years we have letters to a Sicilian patron, Don Antonio Ruffo, who wants a genuine original from her at a cut-down price. Greer says these 1649 texts make “painful” reading: Artemisia complains of poor health, poverty, of how he is cutting her price, of the behavior or her models to her, the poor esteem her work is actually held in from the point of view of how it’s preserved or not. She is “an exhausted woman obliged to court provincial patronage.” From this time comes her series on the life of John the Baptist, this on his birth puts before us a world of women:


While the baby is bathed, Elizabeth looks tired and indifferent to or unaware of what Zachary is writing down.

Numbers of the attributions of her painting to her have been disputed (by F. Ward Bissell especially) over the years (given to Caravaggio for example). They paintings are said to “vacillate” between her father’s hand and Giovani Baglione, and other minor Italian male painters of the time; this is where Mary Garrard’s work has made a difference: Gentileschi now prevails as the painter of figures of somber women playing music, intent on their musicianship.


If you look at some of what is said by even more recent critics, you find denigration. This Lute-player made to recall Saint Cecilia is called “naive” because the figure is so in the foreground, too simple, inexpert:


Biancanio makes a strong case for a work denied Artemisia, an extraordinary Danae


There are similarities to her father’s work, to a Milan Cleopatra (no certain attribution); it’s on copper (Artemisia did execute works on copper), but apparently it’s the painterly techniques (the shading of skin, the loose bedding, the psychology of the story-telling narrative that is telling: King Agrisius of Argos locked his daughter, Danae, in a chamber after a prophecy that she would bear children who would grow up to kill him. Zeus broke in to the chamber in a shower of gold, impregnated her, and her son, Perseus, eventually killed his grandfather. In the picture she clutches the coins in her right hand, her face look strained, guarded, her legs drawn together as if she is hurting after penetration. I love her maid, with her head covered in the long white scarf, her intense blue garment clutched, as she looks up to the sky and stars from which there is no help. I think of the sardonic comment made to Webster’s Duchess of Malfi as she cries out to God in the skies: “Look you, the stars shine still.”

The motif of the maid as a franker version of herself is found in Holofernes images; now we have an interplay of arms and swords (also a motif in her paintings, and a shielding from the light:


Now the head is on the ground; look at the maid’s alert calm-seeming face.

Her extant work is varied, and some clearly from commissions:


Greer suggests her male figures in the portraits are femininized; here one man is suppliant and the other withdraws from him.

She depicts tender motherly love in this Madonna and Child:


But repeatedly we return to this scene where a woman is coerced into sex: here the story of Bathsheba usually presented from the point of view of David and Bathsheba’s cowardly husband, is turned to the reluctant woman: forced marriages are a form of continual rape however submitted to:


Lucretia, soiled, weary, crumpled despite her immense solidarity, is about to cut her breast off first rather than just pushing the dagger directly into herself:


Artemisia Gentileschi’s story can be made into one of astonishing success: she painted for powerful men, traveled to prestigious courts to execute art meant for public definitions of such people. Her self-portrait (which I led with) shows her in peaceful reverie, intense contemplative state, and her magnificent, Clio , her chosen muse, makes proud to have fame (it may be read as an allegory). Throughout her career she is continually remembering moments of her life through female and male figures:


But it’s said on her tomb were painted nasty graffiti accusing her of nymphomania and adultery.


Anna Banti

Banti’s novel is a help in trying to imagine what Artemisia’s life might have felt like: it is a serious historical fiction and set just after World War Two. Banti weaves between an imagined author standing among ruined in a garden after the barbarism of World War Two, with a draft of a manuscript on Gentileschi destroyed and Gentileschi herself: the novel is an explanation of how we see them as the story begins. Artemisia’s story opens with her experience of rape: “Do not cry” (p. 1). Artemisia is ever holding back intense terrible endless crying: “She must wean herself from it if she does not want to die of grief” (p. 26). From the first phase of the novel on Artemisia:

“She did not have the strength to hate her violent, cowardly lover, the go-betweens, the false witnesses, Cosimo, Tuzia, and all the apprentices, washerwomen, models, barbers, painters, parasites: people who seemed to have scarcely ever have noticed her ever since she was a child and who instead had followed her hour by hour, substituting her actions and movements with unrecognizable ones in the presence of the judge. Today she feels guilty, guilty as everyone wishes her to be . . . (1995 Bison _Artemisia_, trans D’Ardia Caracciolo, p. 25)

She is separated off from other women who do not help her. They move away. She is locked in the house as a shameful thing. She wants to stay in the dark — Banti’s imagery returns right back to the beginning of subjective poetry and stories of early modern Europe through 18th century epistolary novels and poetry by women to studies of archetypal imagery in women’s novels today, e.g., “If only the dark would last forever, no one would recognize me as a woman, such hell for me, woe to others” (p. 25).

Well she overcomes that impulse (which Richardson’s Clarissa did not); but it’s not a simple process of repression, but layered. Forced into a hasty marriage, with a man she can’t respect because he doesn’t behave in a powerful aggressive way, calculating and therefore successful, world, because he makes her ashamed because he is of her, she knows others will sympathize with him. It also agonizes her to see him failing.. She lashes out at him and then feels remorseful, but goes ahead berating the man after all, feeling torn all the while.

“His hands look dirty against the white cloth. Dirty but light. This Artemisia remembers and it tears at her heart like something that has been lost; those hands, when they caress, are as light as feathers [she remembers them as beautiful then] She carries on talking, accusing, so as not to feel moved, and sheraises her voice and listens to herself in horror, within these walls which goad her into cruelty and spitefulness” (p. 83)

He leaves her. He runs away in the night. In Florence, she understandably gets into venomous fights with other women because, now separated from her husband, her humiliating sexual reputation is used against her. You could call her behavior self-destructive; the point here for Banti are the parallels with her modern heroine and her own life: There are many parallels in Banti’s life, but she is also allowing her heroine to express anger and anger becomes a driving motive in her ambition.

Always the imagined private life for which we have no record is intertwined so when Artemisia goes to England, it is after Antonio has come with another woman and triumphed over her. In another agon, she sets out though and the metaphors of stone, rock and burning sand as she boards a ship reminded me of Mary Wortley Montagu’s poetry about herself later in life as she set forth for and lived alone in Italy, an exile.

and in the depths of her heart, as on the gray sand secretly disturbed and marked by the waves, she saw the marks left by this thought which she had faithfully kept and inscribed all these years (p. 130).

It’s this idea of stone, of rock, of burning sands, of the mind as this endlessly enduring hard strength.
Her mind is described thus:

She was coming back from such a great distance, where she had received such terrible blows and lightning bolts that her eyes seemed dreamy … p 131).

The modern novel-writing heroine thinks in a contrasting passage: “What terrible masters words turn out to be” (p. 131). These words she is told about her husband drive her into “exile.” It is a tremendous voyage (remember Woolf’s Voyage out); vignettes of the people, of the places, each figure caught and
then Artemisia seen too. She enjoys her trip. I paraphrase from the Italian: She liked not being anywhere
in particular and moving on, the transience of it. She is happy to arrive anywhere too.” This woman’s identification is part of it: “Afterwards she recalled having seen a puppy, no, a small cat, very frightened, at the sparkling carriage window” (from the English translation, p. 167)

We are expected to know she went with her wondrous career but see the price she paid.

When a few women read the book on WWTTA, some were disappointed there was not much on her painting itself, and her public career was not the focus, just the outward framing; I wished there had been more about her household, what she drew from her relationships there. I have read Vreeland’s novel; it is a mainstream American book; a professional reviewer on Amazon writes accurately of The Passion of Artemisia that Vreeland attributes some “decidedly modern attitudes to people who would not have thought that way at that time, and ends on her “triumph as the first woman elected to the Accademia dell’ Arte in Florence” (“in a time when respectable women rarely left their homes”); the focus is equally her career, and family, “beautifully researched and rich with casual detail of clothing, interiors, and street life. She deftly works history and politics into the background of her canvas.”


I conclude on one of her musicians, which some have tried to argue are not Gentileschi’s: here the face is hers:


A self-portrait of herself as a lute-player.


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A poster for the 1993 production of In the Summer House

“Perhaps my maneuvers do seem a little strange, but I have thought for a long time now that often, so very often, heroes who believe themselves to be monsters because they are so far removed from other men [sic] turn around much later and see really monstrous acts being committed in the name of something mediocre” (from Bowles’s Two Serious Ladies).

Dear friends and readers,

I don’t want to forget altogether the Austen in my Reveries under the Sign of so to record some good talk we had this week and a couple of months ago about Paul Bowles’s autobiographical and misogynistic The Sheltering Sky, I’ve decided at very long last to tell just a little about Jane Bowles’ wonderful play, In the Summer House. Jim and I saw it in DC some 12 years ago, I read it with a group of people on Women Writers Across the Ages at Yahoo (where the conversation threads about The Sheltering Sky occurred) about 6 years ago. I went back to it last night and re-confirmed my sense that the underlying archetype is the same found in Austen’s first attempt at a serious toned novel, Catherine, or The Bower.

In a Summer House is her one performed play in professional theaters. It seems to me to be on one level, a play about mothers and daughters. We have three pairs: Gertrude who owns the property by a beach and road, and her daughter, Molly, who likes to retreat to the summer house (descendent of the pavilion Nancy Miller makes much of in her book on womens’ novels and l’ecriture-femme). Mrs Lopez and Esperanza, who come to Gertrude’s house with Mr Solares who Gertrude is hoping to marry (though she apparently dislikes him and is thinking of this partly because Spanish men, says she, always leave the house and sit with bunches of other men drinking little cups of thick nasty coffee). Mrs Constable (who we’ve seen not much of but appears to be timorous and self-effacing) and her daughter, Vivian, who is willing to jump in the water (showing her nature for seizing life? much quicker than Molly).

There are two central males: Mr Solares who is seen as a desirable object or mate for Mrs Lopez and Mrs Constable. Towards the end of scene ii, he is increasingly attracted to the apparently docile, quiet, submissive Mrs Constable and wants to go off to her house (or wherever she lives). Mr Solares brings food with him served by Mrs Lopez, and this is huge amounts heaped over the stage and pushed into the mouths of others, thrown at them. Gertrude says she and Molly usually have a light lunch (salad), but this will not be the case if she marries Mr Solares. The other man is a young man Lionel who Molly and Vivian are implicitly (though not in Molly’s behavior or anything she says) rivals for him.

Felicity Jones as Austen’s later Catherine (from NA) retreating into the natural world to read

The mothers and daughters are mostly intensely antagonistic. The play strongly reminded me of the first attempt at adult serious fiction Austen wrote, Catherine, or the Bower. There too Catherine retreats to a bower, and also to read: Molly reads comic books which her mother hates (she hates a lot of things), and Catherine romances which her aunt deplores as dangerous. Catherine’s aunt wants to keep her from life, from sex especially, but like Gertrude, hates this retreat and would destroy it if she had the nerve. Catherine has false friends who are her antagonists in reality. The antagonism or implicit hostility is not overtly noticeable in either work. There is no mother in Austen; in Bowles the mothers are there looking out for their daughters. Vivian comes as a boarder to Gertrude’s house (she needs the money).

What happens is Vivian commits suicide, I’m not sure why she suddenly jumps off the cliff. Her mother is no solace or support, herself a withdrawn frightened woman who we see Mr Lopez could easily take advantage of. If Mrs Constable is no help to Vivian, Gertrude is a nagging drain on Molly and presented as dependent and mordant.

Perhaps I missed something in the play which shows understanding for Gertrude; without it, it may be read as anti-feminist, and angry, and sorrowful for Molly, but glad she got Lionel and didn’t kill herself because she has a weak mother and no options. I wished the play in the reading had brought forward Mrs Constable more and made us sympathize with her and made her retreats understandable. It didn’t in the reading. It’s clear from the NY Times review I linked it most male viewers fail to see the point of view Bowles is writing out of at all.

At the close of the play, Gertrude makes one last desperate attempt to control Molly, to part her from Lionel (who we’ve been given no reason to dislike or think badly of) and fails. Molly will go off, escape the summer house by marrying Lionel. Gertrude marries Mr Solares.

On our Women Writers listserv at Yahoo the talk was of how women are led to live “inauthentic existences:” they have roles imposed on them, and are taught women are masochistic, punished when they protest. This line of thought can connect her works up to works of authors like Jane Rhys. I know from my reading that studies have shown what seems to be masochism is actually a learned response, an attempt to guard oneself from the critical outer world which refuses to help (or will take your children away from you, if you have any). Mothers and daughters learn to be enemies; are pulled apart. She is also presented from a skewed kind of light: here see Jennie Skerl, “The Legend of Jane Bowles: Stories of the Female Avant-Garde,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 41:3 (1999 Fall): 262-79; Charlotte Goodman, “Mommy Dearest: Mothers and Daughters in Jane Bowles’s In the Summer House and Other Plays by Contemporary Women Writers.” Pp. 64-76 in A Tawdry Place of Salvation: The Art of Jane Bowles, ed. by Jennie Skerl. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997.

In Austen’s Catherine or the Bower there are (as I recall) hints of a suitor to come who will enable her to escape her aunt and the bower; the emphasis though is on a character who is an early verison of the insouciant cold-hearted Henry Crawford type. It’s but a fragment and Catherine has as yet only met a vain coquette of the Isabelle Tilney type. The solution seems analogous but the intermediate part is not written.

Austen certainly had a fraught relationship with her mother, and there are few good mothers in her fiction. This poem by Eavan Boland seems to me germane to both Austen’s fiction and Bowles’s play:

The Pomegranate

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
    It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.


I saw the play done late one summer, end of August, in Arlington, in a theatre which is a garage renovated just enough to be a theatre. The players were the Washington Shakespeare company, a innovative group which often does unusual and sometimes wonderful plays; th ey used to read dramatically aloud at night on Mondays the finest plays. They seem not to be able to make enough money to become stable or hold onto their people for long; at the core are a few fine actors and actresses. They did the play appealingly, seemed to understand it.

Water — a reverie (Gloria Munoz, b. 1949)

It felt drenched in melancholy mood, and was presented as a lyrical moment. In reading I could see music would be played, but one can’t feel this as one reads and it did not come across as a mood-piece but rather surreal and neurotic. Perhaps the surreal doesn’t need to be explained: the throwing around of food, the messy state of the garden, the way Lionel comes in with symbolic figures.
The neurosis might need explanation. It might be me. There is something about the way the characters nag at one another and make these half-wild self-involved remarks that reminds me of satires on the way New York City family members talk to one another. It may sound laughable, but in reading the play seems “very suburban NYC Queens” (that’s one of the outer boroughs of NYC), and comically American Jewish in tone. There’s an exasperation in the undercurrents that Woody Allen used to aim at as central to his comedy. I found myself imitating it this morning when I found Jim had made a mess outside our house by throwing the leaves out of the gutters onto the grass and not sweeping the stuff up.

The first impression for me was this is not a play showing hostility to women. It’s written from within.

The play flopped and got bad reviews when it played years before this (1993) at Beaumont, and Bowles’s fiction got negative reviews too. If she herself is or was unwilling, not brave enough to indite her society in a way that makes her inditement understandable (or if her text was cut by someone and whatever was cut left unrestored), I can see why the hard mean worldly critics of NY would berate it. (2015 note today: I dislike very much the snarky kind of review one finds on blogs and online reviews)


An older edition

From all I’ve read (and there is a biography and some intelligent clearly written literary criticism in honest language), Jane had a short, later ill, and sad life. She was seriously damaged and (we are told) lesbian and Paul was gay, and after an initial time of being lovers, they turned into partners. She stayed with him, clung to him (it seems) like Carrington clung to Strachey.

There is a good biography: A little Original Sin: The life and Work of Jane Bowles by Millicent Dillon; a new collected works: My Sister’s Hand in Mine; Two Serious Ladies, her novel exists in a separate edition.

Bowles’s oeuvre is so small and it seems obvious to me it’s that way because she didn’t have hope she would be read with sympathy. I recommend Kathy Justice Gentile, “‘The Dreaded Voyage into the World’: Jane Bowles and Her Serious Ladies.” Studies in American Fiction, 22:1 (1994 Spring): 47-60. I can well understand a woman not working hard on something if she has reason to believe it will bring her nothing much. Austen’s determination to work on was remarkable but she too had periods of despair, and we forget how close it came to their not getting into print. She only managed to complete four for real.

Catherine, or The Bower was first published in 1951 (!)

Novels are not attacked in the same social group spirit as are plays. They are done before a live public taught to value only masculinist norms and aesthetics, aggressive, pointed, upbeat. As a film perhaps the play could do better — in the darkness with a hallucinating machine of a screen in front of us. Films can get away with more than plays. And novels even more, poetry less so (because for women especially it’s read incessantly autobiographically)


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Portrait of a Lady (1551)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve chosen for my second woman artist portrait Caterina van Hemeseen (1527/8 to 1581 or after 1587) because she’s one of the earliest named women artists in Europe (the source books and surveys and collections often begin with her, or include her early on among early modern women. She is also not as favored as Sofonisba and Lucia Anguissola (1536-1625, 1536-65) or the rare (glorious, as in her bowl of peaches) still life painter for the era, Fede Glizia (1578-13). Germaine Greer (Obstacle Race, 109-10, 167, 253) finds Van Hemessen’s work “archaic” with a “carefully restricted range of feeling.” Greer mentions as a parallel in the early 20th century the small, diffident, intense paintings compared to the large originality and variety of her brother Augustus. I disagree, and feel people are not sufficiently taking into account the repressive religious culture of the low countries and Germany in general into account. Any rate I am impressed by Caterina Van Hemessen’s portraits, find them memorable, arresting, appealing.

The above 1551 “Portrait of a Lady” is rightly her most often reproduced work, known as surely by her and my favorite. What is most often described is her attention to realistic detail, her ability to convey textures of clothing, and the things her sitters are seen with: a small lapdog (as in the above), musical instruments played, herself painting. In the above painting the dog’s collar has bells; the woman wears a beautiful lace blouse, open collar to emphasize her shoulders, red velvet sleeves, embroidered skirt. What I’d like to call attention to (which we see above) is the expression on their faces. That is what is arresting. The sad eagerness of their eyes, the worn nature of their lived in skin, their nervous hands. The woman above holds the chain around her waist and fingers a bunched up handkerchief or silk flower. Again and again it is this acuity of vulnerable feeling and personal small movements in their hands that holds viewers — at any rate, holds me.

Here is another “Portrait of a Lady” about which little is known but what we see.


Van Hemessen is capable of photographic realism from a face. Note how she is twisting her ring. Her neck-cloth is individual; the slit opening and area between it and her bodice, the reddish necklace just glimpsed are meant to draw us in, to attract in a modest way sexually. Her sleeves, headdress and neck cloth all have blue highlights, polka-dots on her lace, the ring and jewelry below is red like the necklace. All the women wear corsets; hers is either especially tight or Van Hemessen has given her an artificially slender waist. I wonder what she is thinking.

About ten portraits are signed by Van Hemessen, three are presumably of her. She paints her name, “pingebat” and the year. Borzello (Seeing Ourselves, 41) says Caterina’s portrait of herself is among the earliest, if not the earliest self-portrait of a woman artist. We see her palette gripped by a left thumb, her brushes ready in her fist, a mahlstick. Caterina has a high collar, and presents herself as a professional painter, but she is also dressed richly: layered velvet skirt, fancy work on her sleeves and lace around her neck. The face is a real unique face and resembles the faces of the woman at the spinet and in a nun’s habit below.


I chose her also because how she was able to become a woman painter by trade and vocation, resembles that of many of the women who became painters until the mid-18th century (when conditions in society and attitudes towards women and art began to change enough): she belonged to a painting family. The chief successful painter can be a father, a husband, an male-in-law (occasionally a woman is central too). Caterina van Hemessen (Jordi Vigue, Great Women Masters of Art, 33-38) was the second daughter of the painter Jan van Hemessen who in 1524 became a master of Antwerp, in 1548 a senior member of its guild.

This young woman playing the virginal is thought to be Caterina’s sister, Christina (according to records 2 years older than Caterina):


In Jordi Vigue’s book it’s suggested this one is meant to go with the one of Caterina painting as a set. Christina (if the girl is she) is so richly colored: black background alive, dark shades on her warm brown sleeves, high color, tight framed headdress with lappet. Her instrument is on a diagonal line, a spinet and virginal. The sitter’s skill (her fingers are playing) marks her as upper class, educated.

Caterina studied in her father’s studio and, as Catholic, painted religious scenes, all multi-figured, abundantly detailed. The one below shows they could be unusual because of its depiction of Veronica, kneeling on the ground holding an image of Jesus’s face:


According to an apocryphal text, The Death of Pilate, Veronica was bringing cloth to an artist to request a portrait of Jesus. She met Jesus on her way to the studio, and he took the cloth from her and his image magically appeared there. During the middle ages, she became part of the many legends of the era: she is said to have pitied Jesus as she saw him on the way to Calvary, and the cloth she used to dry his sweating, beaten-up shattered face magically had his image appear on it as a result. The composition is traditional except for the parallelism of Veronica with Jesus, the naturalism of her pose. Care has been take to make her sleeves and headdress a light teal blue, they are loose, her gown, golden flows around her. I can’t make out what the blackish area is; it might be a powerful thigh pushing out under her undershift (unusual for its dark colors). These colors are repeated in a woman higher up in the painting who is praying in a ritual posture, and a nobleman on a horse. Different figures have curiosity on their faces as they turn to look at what’s happening around them: it’s like a miniature, or an illuminated vignette in a book, with an arch to the side, a tower seen in the distance. It’s oil on wood.

She married Christian de Morien, organist for the Antwerp Cathedral, a gentleman, on February 23, 1554; in 1555 she is recorded as maid of honor in an official list of the court of Brussels. She seems to have found a patroness in Mary of Austria, sister to Emperor Charles V: Ludovico Guicciardini who named her as one of the five famous woman painters of the era, explained in his Descrittione de tutti i poesi bassi (1567) that Christian and Caterina were invited to Spain for “rare and excellent virtues” and were to receive an “endowment for the rest of their lives.” But after Mary of Austria’s death, records suggest the couple returned to Antwerp. The anecdotes offered are contradictory: her relationship with Mary of Austria (sometimes called Hungary) is elaborated upon (with no proof cited) as seemingly attached; it’s said she had a generous pension and must have kept on painting; but equally often that she left off painting later in life (see 50 Women Artists, Weideman et alia, 12-15; Honig Fine, Women and Art, 28-29; Heller, Women Artists, 24-25). Mary’s art collection included Titian and was bought by Philip II, became part of the foundation for the Portrait Gallery of the Prado. That’s why Caterina’s connection with Mary is brought out.

Heller sees Caterina as valued as a portraitist and miniaturist. For example, this “Portrait of a Man” (1552):


Although he wears the flattened cap, a variety of bonnet over very short hair. He wears a black doublet with precious stone decoration, and light ocher sleeves and trim, matching the luminous skin color of his face and blonde short beard; a ring hangs from his neck he wears another on his finger, grips a sword (no doubt about his status) decidedly; he other arm is less. I like its somberness and the lack of anecdote.

Caterina van Hemessen was included in Giorgio Vasari’s Vite (1568, published in Florence) in a chapter on Flemish painters (as an excellent miniaturist?). Later a Dutch physician from Dresden, Van Beverwyck (1594-1647) mentions her. There are no known certain works by her after 1555; there are attributions which are uncertain (a portrait of a young woman dated 1560 in the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Two more pictures: Not much is known about this, really only that the image is by Van Hemessen, and (what you see) of an older woman:


Her wedding ring shows; she has rich fur and lace trimming, is in black with a high collar, tight headdress. She looks out warily, is careful about her expression which has a sadness in it; she is controlling her long-fingered hands by keeping them folded one over another.

It’s appropriate to end with a short dedicatory poem by Anna Bijns (writer, schoolteacher, nun, born in Antwerp, by 1516, died 1575). A rare and informative essay on and some translations of her poetry have been written by Kristiann P.F. Aercke (in Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation, ed. Katherine Wilson, “Germanic Sappho,” pp 364-97):

Artistic tempers, with art on your minds
Nothing here bu what in good faith was done.
Now knowing this, relish its affection even more.
And in case of a fault, well, ’tis a woman’s work!

Bright spirits, to learn from you what’s right
I am prepared to do; let your wisdom join mine.
In technique my skill, I know, is poor,
Not masterly yet; hence my teachers I praise highly,
So, eagerly, by artists I’ll be taught.

For love of Truth, for an ever stronger Faith
I have blithely worked and shed no tears.

Two more anthologies which offer a good sense of the inner world of early modern women: Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson’s Early Modern Women Poets (good and ample selection, some from Latin, Gaelic, local dialects, but alas all British); Betty Travitsky’s The Paradise of Women (all Englishwomen except for Mary Stuart who of course lived in Britain).


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