Sunday, July 18, 2010

AIC: Femme Fatales

Today, Chicago maybe at the helm of contemporary arts, but who would argue that there is hardly anything before 1870's. It has somehow bypassed centuries of progress in arts. Wonder what was happening in Chicago, when Europe was going through the phase of Renaissance? To see what have we missed here, in the Medieval and Renaissance phases, what better place to go than a trip to Europe!! [How I wish!] But that's a distant dream. A much closer, and a viable reality, possible practically anyday, is a walk through the European Galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago [AIC]..

Last when I was walking through [the European Galleries], I noticed that some of them had very violent themes. Case in point, the painting of "Judith". She is beautiful, but far from the modern day "Twiggy", she is very strong and muscular. With intense sharp gaze, and a sword in hand and the slain head of Holofernes, the painting "Judith" by Hemessen, has a very dramatic appeal. Coming back home, it was time to browse through the website of AIC, which I frequently do, and I came across an interesting page "Femme Fatales" AIC Self-Guide, beginning with the words...
Seductive, yet dangerous, beautiful, yet deadly - the femme fatale has captured the artistic imagination from biblical times to the modern day cinema..
A topic worth exploring..

Femme fatales [or fatal women], have always found a place in our religion, arts and literature. These alluring and seductive women, charm men, often leading them to their destruction.
Here are some of the Biblical femme fatales [at the AIC}..

Probably the most famous of them, Eve brings fall to humankind. She accepts Satan’s seductions and eats from the Tree of Knowledge. She tempts Adam to join her in sin. God punishes their transgressions, and humankind still suffers. Eve's beauty and her inherent flaws come to define her femaleness.

The painting, "Eve" is by the 16th century German artist, Lucas Cranach the Elder.. Interestingly, her slender undulating figure confirm more to contemporary ideals of beauty.

A temptress from the Old Testament. A Philistine woman who betrays Samson, the Nazarite. The name "Delilah" has now become synonymous with treachery and deceit.

This painting, "The Capture of Samson" is by famous 17th century Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens. [Digression: A trivia for art junkies. The marker informs that, this sketch is in fact on the preliminary study of Rubens' great work, "Adoration of Magi". He inverted the panel before painting again, and the lower part of Madonna's blue robe is seen here in the upper right corner.]

The beautiful wealthy widow of Bethulia, tries to protect her city from the seize by Holofernes. She dresses herself in finery and ingratiates herself with the general
by promising military secrets. Holofernes invites Judith to his tent but is beheaded by the brave woman when he falls into a drunken sleep..

This 16th century painting is by Flemish artist Van Hemessen. He emphasized her muscular and dynamic form. However, by choosing to depict her nude, he also hinted at her sensuality.

A classic femme fatale, embodiment of beauty, desire, and sin. Infamous for her seductive dance, that her stepfather Herod Antipas granted her wish. She asked for for the head of Saint John the Baptist.

This painting, "Salome with the head of Saint John, the Baptist", is by the 16th century Italian painter, Guido Reni. The marker reads.. The combination of religiosity, violence and eroticism appealed to the morbid aspects of the 17th century sensibility.

And then there is the mythological Greek femme fatale, Medusa. She was beautiful with a bevy of male solicitors. The wrath of Athena transformed her hair into snakes and men were turned to stone, by just looking at her.

This sculpture is the great Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova, who dominated the artistic scene in Rome at the turn of the 19th century.

Be it Mermaids or Sirens, biblical figures like Eve, Delilah or Salome, or even historical like Cleopatra, femme fatales have always occupied a place in our arts and literature, through times..

Just a Sunday musing..
Tomorrow, Monday, more on Public Art in Chicago..

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