Category: Uncategorized

George Catlin- Dance to the Berdache (1830)

George Catlin- Dance to the Berdache (1830)

George Catlin was a painter from Pennsylvania, USA. His works focused on Native American life and culture as he was interested in capturing North America’s “vanishing race” and spent weeks sketching and painting among indigenous folks to capture their “untouched” lifestyles. His most prolific expedition was with William Clark up the Mississippi River Territories of the United States started in 1830. While he documented tribes he visited, he was hostile toward non-european customs and wrote anti-two spirit sentiments toward the Sac and Fox village he visited.

Note on “Berdache” and Western Colonization Efforts: “Berdache” was a term given by the French during North American colonization for folks born male and given traditional female dress and roles along with (in some traditions) spiritual and shaman related properties and abilities. However, this term has been used offensively and extraneously since its origin in France and was later popularized by the field of anthropology. However, many indigenous folks have claimed the term two-spirit in lieu of this term and prefer this.

Most depictions that exist of two-spirit individuals in recorded history are from westernized colonization efforts and research such as Catlin’s. Note that his experiences through writing, art, and recordings of these individuals can be demeaning and untrue to the traditions of the Sac and Fox Nation’s two-spirit individuals.

Featured Artwork: Dance to the Berdache (1830)

Media: Watercolor

Location: Sketched on location at Sac and Fox Nation Village in Northwestern Illinois, USA (1830)

Where can I see Dance to the Berdache?: Smithsonian American Art Museum (Not currently on view) in Washington D.C. (USA)

Significance to Queer Art History: The two-spirit folks in question of this tribe in the Sac and Fox Nation’s village (located in Illinois, USA) were chosen as young males who deviated from norm in their choices during their upbringings. Some individuals  were documented to have willingly chosen to perform women’s roles in their village or may have dreams that they must fulfill a role as a two-spirit individual when discussing visions. The dance (and feast, as written in his journal) in Catlin’s piece was supposedly held annually to honor the two-spirit individual’s (or multiple persons) role/s in the tribe as a spiritual shaman and/or medicinal healing figure as well as a thanks for having been gifted with these things.

Catlin, while he was fascinated with the people and wanted to record their traditions, was highly opposed to two-spirit individuals and wrote in his notes:

“This is one of the most unaccountable and disgusting customs, that I have ever met in the Indian country, and so far as I have been able to learn, belongs only to the Sioux and Sacs and Foxes— perhaps it is practiced by other tribes, but I did not meet with it; and for further account of it I am constrained to refer the reader to the country where it is practiced, and where I should wish that it might be extinguished before it be more fully recorded.” (Catlin 214)

Sources:

Catlin, George. Illustrations of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians in a Series of Letters and Notes Written during Eight Years of Travel and Adventure among the Wildest and Most Remarkable Tribes Now Existing, with Three Hundred and Sixty Engravings from the Author’s Original Paintings. 214-16.

“Biography of George Catlin.” Biography | George Catlin. Accessed August 06, 2017. http://www.georgecatlin.org/biography.html.

“Dance to the Berdash by George Catlin.” Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. Accessed August 06, 2017. http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=4023.

TWO TAKES ON TWO SPIRITS | Recording the History of Multiple Genders in Native North America. Accessed August 06, 2017. https://www.eiteljorg.org/interact/blog/eitelblog/2013/09/11/two-takes-on-two-spirits-recording-the-history-of-multiple-genders-in-native-north-america.

Williams, Walter L. “The Berdache Tradition.” In The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

Wishart, David J. “Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.” Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | BERDACHE. Accessed August 06, 2017. http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.gen.004.

Donatello (1386-1466)

Donatello (1386-1466)

Donatello, born as Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi was a sculptor prominently featured through the Italian Renaissance in Florence, Italy. Donatello was one of the first modern artists to be known as gay in Florence, a city where homosexuality was prominent among artists and patrons alike, albeit, still frowned upon by certain sectors (namely, the church.) Donatello’s studio was a homosocial environment where in which, he chose apprentices from his standards of beauty rather than skill.

Featured Artwork: David

Date & Location: (1430-1440) in Florence, Italy

Media: Bronze

Where can I view this artwork?: Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, Italy.

Donatello’s David was the first known freestanding life-size male nude sculpture since ancient Roman monuments. This was a renaissance of restored “perfection” in the classical arts. This figure idolized male form and androgyny in its form and soft curves.

The symbolism in the piece also recalls an early homoerotic allusion to the eagle of Jupiter in David’s feathered helmet-tail. Roman myth told of Jupiter’s eagle looking and lusting after the divine hero, Ganymede.

Resources & Further Reading:

Saslow, James M. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York, NY: Viking, 2000. 83-84.

National Museum of Bargello – Florence. Accessed August 06, 2017. http://www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/museum_of_bargello.html.

Artist Unknown- Funerary Relief of Fonteia Helena and Fonteia Eleusis (21-14 BCE)

Artist Unknown- Funerary Relief of Fonteia Helena and Fonteia Eleusis (21-14 BCE)

 

Featured Artwork: Funerary Relief of Fonteia Helena and Fonteia Eleusis

Date & Location: 21-14 BCE (Augustinian Period) Rome, Italy

Media: Marble Relief

Where can I view this artwork?: This relief currently belongs to the British Museum’s collection

Significance to Queer Art History: This sculpture was a commemoration of freedwomen Fonteia Helena and Fonteia Eleusis. The figures placement together signifies an important relationship in life. It is argued that the two women were lovers or even married due to their position as one that was also commonly given to heterosexual married couples in funerary reliefs. The sculpture was modified a few centuries later by an unknown person in attempt to modify the left figure’s appearance to appear as a male figure by cutting off her hair.

Resources & Further Reading:

“Relief.” British Museum. Accessed July 25, 2017. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=391042001&objectId=394264&partId=1.

Brooten, Bernadette J. Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism. 1998. 58-59.

Hans Baldung Grien- Witches’ Orgy (1514)

Hans Baldung Grien- Witches’ Orgy (1514)

Hans Baldung Grien was a pupil of Albrecht Durer in the early 1500’s. He lived in Germany along with Durer during this time. He is not rumored to have been queer, but was interested in showing women’s (specifically women rumored to be witches) “unnatural lusts” toward one another in this time.

Featured artwork: Witches’ Orgy

Date and Location: 1514, Germany

Media: Pen and Ink

Significance to Queer Art History:

During this time, women (mostly spinsters and widows) who were supposed “witches” were prosecuted heavily in Northern Europe. This lead to a spread of artwork and literature on witchcraft. Connecting to witchcraft was lesbianism, which was a supposed interaction of their “unnatural lusts” and “sex with the devil”. This was a reflection of society’s fear of masculine and independent women.

Grien’s Witches Orgy is exemplarily of the lusts and interactions of witches among each other in their gatherings and orgies. While no phalluses or broomstick shapes are found in the imagery as one would see in modern  and playful imagery of “witches”,  physical power play is shown over one another in the position of the figures climbing over one another.

Resources & Further Reading:

Saslow, James M. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York, NY: Viking, 2000. 92-95.

Smalls, James. “Female Homosexuality in the Visual Arts.” In Homosexuality in Art. New York: Confidential Concepts, 2015.

 

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)

Albrecht Dürer was a printmaker and painter from Nuremberg Germany. His prints are considered prolific to the German Renaissance. Dürer worked and traveled to Italy much during his studies of visual arts and spent time with a lifelong and rumored intimate partner, Willibald Prickheimer, a German lawyer and humanist author. This intimacy was documented through letters that also discussed Durer’s dual lust for German girls and soldiers. Dürer even created a charcoal portrait of Prickheimer with a quite blatant Greek quotation that roughly translates to: “With the cock in your asshole”

Featured Artwork: The Bath House

Date and location: 1496 in Germany

Media: Woodcut Print

Where can I see this artwork?:  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (not currently on view)

Significance to Queer Art History: 

Durer’s Bath House explores a homosocial environment of drinking, playing music, and flirting that illustrates Dürer’s experiences in bath houses and similar areas. The imagery proves to be homoerotic as well in placement of a phallic fountain at the crotch of the male figure on the left of the image.

 

Resources & Further Reading: 

Saslow, James M. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York, NY: Viking, 2000. 92-96.

Schulz, Matthias, and Spiegel Online. “The God of Colors: Researchers Shed New Light on Artist Albrecht Dürer.” SPIEGEL ONLINE. May 01, 2012. Accessed July 2017. http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/new-details-emerge-on-artist-duerer-ahead-of-exhibition-a-830282.html.

“Albrecht Dürer | The Bath House | The Met.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum. Accessed July  2017. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/388481.

(1471-1528), Albrecht Dürer. “Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) – The Bath House.” Royal Collection Trust. July 12, 1495. Accessed July 2017. https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/800195/the-bath-house.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo, born in 1907, claimed she was born in 1910, the year that the Mexican revolution began. She was proud of Mexican culture and heritage. Thus, she showed this through her art and life in Mexico. Her works centered on her identity, passions, and pain. Kahlo suffered from polio as a child and later, almost died from a bus accident. She began her focus on painting while in a body cast during this time. As she worked through her life, more health complications came up for her, including miscarriages that resulted from the bus accident. This resulted in more artworks delving into her pain. Kahlo was noted as bisexual for her various lovers and love for women in her life. She was passionate about maintaining her gardens and her pets, including dogs, spider monkeys, birds, and even a deer. Perhaps one of Kahlo’s greatest passions in her life was fellow painter, Diego Rivera. While both Kahlo and Rivera had affairs and a tumultuous relationship, having married twice, they each were passionate about the other.

Featured Artwork: Two Nudes in the Forest (The Earth Itself)
two-nudes-in-the-forest-the-earth-itself

Date and location: 1939 in Mexico

Media: Oil on metal

Significance to Queer Art History:
This painting was originally created as a gift for Kahlo’s intimate partner, Delores del Rio, who was a popular Mexican actress in the 1920s-30s.

Symbolism:
The two women symbolize feminine sexuality as well as Frida’s dual identities comforting one another as European (signified by the figure with light skin) and Mestiza.

The painting also contains a monkey (a common symbol in Frida’s paintings and life as she owned several spider monkeys.) Monkeys, however, are also common symbols for sin and sexual promiscuity.

Resources & Further Reading:

“Biography of Frida Kahlo.” Biography | Frida Kahlo. Accessed April 13, 2017. https://www.frida-kahlo-foundation.org/biography.html.

Saslow, James M. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York, NY: Viking, 2000. 237-38

“Two Nudes in the Forest (The Earth Itself).” Frida Kahlo: Paintings, Biography, Quotes. Accessed April 13, 2017. https://www.fridakahlo.org/two-nudes-in-the-forest.jsp.