Tag: Genderfluid

Two Ladies of the Court in Saint Joan

Two Ladies of the Court in Saint Joan

Two ladies in courtly dresses that drag on the ground lean against each other in elegant poses. The one nearest the foreground holds out an apple in her left hand and wears blue and white while the woman behind her wears black and white. Both have elaborate gold headgear. At the top of the image, which appears to be on paper board pasted into a book that is now peeling away, it reads "Two Ladies of the Court."

Artist: Charles Ricketts
Media: Watercolour on board
Date & Location: 1924
Image Source: Picryl

Significance to Queer Art History

Charles Ricketts was a British painter, designer, and publisher. He met his partner Charles Shannon at the City and Guilds Technical Art School in south London in 1882 when they were both teenagers. They moved in together in 1888 and lived with each other for the rest of their lives. They also had sexual and emotional relationships with other men as well as women while living together.

Dear Old Chap… At each meal time they plonk down a plate of strawberries which make me think of you–no, this is not quite accurate. I really think of the strawberries. Only when they are done, I think of thee.”

– Charles Ricketts to Charles Shannon in a letter from Florence

Ricketts and Shannon were both individually practicing artists, but they also created the art magazine, The Dial, as well as Vale Press, together.

Ricketts and Shannon were responsible for the illustration and design of many of Oscar Wilde’s books and had a long-term friendship with Wilde who himself is an often-cited queer icon.

They also counted among their friends Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper. Bradley and Cooper were long-time lovers (living together for about 40 years) and collaborators. They were also (making things a bit more complicated) aunt and niece. Together the women published their writing (some inspired by the poems of Sappho of Lesbos) under the shared pseudonym, Michael Fields. Ricketts and Shannon designed some of their books. The couple also asked Ricketts and Shannon to help them find and furnish “a home for [their] marriage.”

The watercolour Two Ladies of the Court by Ricketts was painted as one of the plates for the book edition of the play Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. Itself a scene of intimacy between two women, this watercolour is also for a play about one of the most famous figures from medieval history (Joan of Arc) known for defying binary constructions of gender. It also has a counterpart in a plate in the same book of two “gentlemen ushers of the court.”

These two ushers even have pointy shoes, which have a queer medieval history of their own, but that is for another post x

After the Ricketts and Shannon passed away within six years of each other, their friend, Edmund Dulac, painted them together as two monks in this double portrait.

A painting of two monks in a meadow with a pale blue sky behind them. Both have halos which are gold to match the gold arching frame above them that connects to the frame. They both face the viewer. Their arms touch in the middle suggesting their intimacy.

Charles Ricketts. Self-Portrait : Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts. Collected and compiled by Thomas Sturge Moore , edited by Cecil Lewis. London: P. Davies, 1939.

Matt Cook. Queer Domesticities : Homosexuality and Home Life in Twentieth-Century London. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Sarah Parker. “Poets and lovers: the two women who were Michael Field.” The Conversation. 31 January 2020. Accessed 25 March 2024.



Artist: Unknown
Media: Sandstone
Date & Location: This sculpture was made between 900 and 1450 CE, but we do not know a precise date. You can currently find it at the British Museum
Image Source: Image from the British Museum website

Significance to Queer Art History

This statue would have originally been part of a temple or shrine in ancient Mexico. It was made by the Huastec whose culture is thought to date back to the 10th C. BCE and continues today. Tlazolteotl was a Huastec goddess who was later adopted by the Aztecs (perhaps more accurately called Nahuas).

Tlazolteotl was especially associated with steam baths, midwives, childbirth, adulterers, and purification. This goddess was said to be able to both incite lust and purify people of their sexual excesses. Her significance to queer art history stems from her genderfluidity. She was often depicted as a woman warrior with both vulvic and phallic genitals. Contrary to the stigma surrounding intersex and trans* people today, for the Huastec this likely symbolized her supernatural powers.

Some also suggest she was the mother of the Maize God who was likewise famous for being able to move across genders.

Forms of queerness were celebrated (and continue to be celebrated) by many Indigenous cultures around the world prior to colonization, and contemporary homophobia and transphobia are just some of the ongoing harms of colonization. The suppression of queerness was often cited as one ‘reason’ for colonial violence. As noted in R.B Parkinson’s A Little Gay History, in 1519 “the invading Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes declared–very conveniently–that ‘they are all sodomites.’

In more recent queer art history, Tlazolteotl was also a figure frequently referenced by famously bisexual artist Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera.


Comisarenco, Dina. “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Tlazolteotl.” Woman’s art journal 17, no. 1 (1996): 14–21.

Parkinson, R.B. A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World. London: The British Museum Press, 2013.