Tag: Lesbian

Mary Høeg & Bolette Berg in the Boat

Mary Høeg & Bolette Berg in the Boat

Artist: Mary Høeg
Media: Photography
Date & Location: c. 1895-1903, Horton, Norway
Where can I see this artwork?: Preus Museum, Norway

Significance to Queer Art History

Mary Høeg was a Norwegian suffragette and photographer. This is a photograph (described to me as an early “selfie of sorts”) of her and her partner, Bolette Berg. It is part of a private collection of her photographs, which subvert cis-heteronormative expectations of portraiture, and which were labelled ‘private’ when they came to the Preus Museum. The photographs Høeg sold to the public were primarily landscapes, and they were sold at ‘Berg and Høeg photography studio’ in Horten, Norway.

Digitized reproductions of her private photos also beg questions of the ethics of reproducing and sharing art works not created for public display.

Would she have minded? Could she have imagined such wide-spread access? Does the importance of archiving queer art works justify their reproduction?

Marie Høeg (left) posing with an unknown person (right) in the studio. Photo: Berg & Høeg,
c. 1895-1903. The Preus museum collection.

Resources

Preus Museum. “Bolette Berg and Marie Høeg.” accessed 07/29/20.
https://www.preusmuseum.no/eng/Discover-the-Collections/Photographers/Bolette-Berg-and-Marie-Hoeeg

Le Roman de Silence

Le Roman de Silence

Artist: Unknown
Author: Heldris de Cornuälle
Date & Location: Early 13th Century, France
Media: Pigment on vellum (calf skin)

A miniature showing Queen Eufeme sitting on a throne in her private chambers with Silence beside her. the private apartments are represented through a distinctive architectural frame, which here manifests as two arches. The two are seated with Eupheme on the viewer’s right and Silence on the left. This miniature, consistent with the illustrative program, emphasizes Eupheme’s position in court through hierarchical scale and a golden crown.
Queen Eupheme (right) seducing Silence (left), WLC.LM.6, Roman de Silence, f. 209r. Used with permission from University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Significance to Queer Art History

The French narrative Le Roman de Silence was written by Heldris de Cornuälle in the 13th century. This is the only known surviving copy, also from the early 13th century, which exists between the vellum folios 188r-223r of WLC/LM/6 at the University of Nottingham.

This narrative, including the eleven miniatures (images) containing narrative content, is based on another medieval text: De Planctu Naturae (The Complaint of Nature) by Alain de Lille (c.1128-1212). Alain de Lille focusses especially on “sodomy,” and so does Heldris de Cornuälle.

Sodomy, and characters representing sodomy, does not match with our modern cis-heteronomative presumptions. This means that the “sodomitical” characters represented in Romance de Silence don’t conform to these presumptions either.

There are three characters (Silence, Eupheme, and the Nun) who do not conform to their assigned gender roles, and one of these characters has been called by contemporary scholars a “lesbian” figure.

This is a miniature on folio 222v. This miniature shows Silence standing naked on the left with her hands raised revealing one breast located — in truly medieval fashion — closer to her shoulder than her chest. King Evan stands fully clothed in blue with a golden crown making a dialogic gesture towards Silence.
Silence standing nude before Kind Evan, WLC.LM.6, Roman de Silence, f. 222v. Used with permission from University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Summary

Since these images are so connected to the story, here is a brief summary of these three “queer” characters and their role in the plot:

**Please note: Various gendered pronouns are used here to discuss the narrative, and I do not want to negate any trans/non-binary interpretations, which I think abound. Please interpret them in whichever ways resonate for you. Additionally, these characters face violent endings so, while this is a piece of the history of queer representation, this is a loving heads-up before you dive in.**

Silence

Silence is initially described as a woman, but raised as a man after the king decrees that daughters can no longer inherit.

Silence is revealed to be a woman by Merlin at the end of the narrative, and she is then married to the king.

Silence’s body had taken on physical masculine features before being revealed, though, which are described as being “refinished” by Nature (ll. 6457–6460).

It is also worth noting that Silence had desires to make the transition permanent. He sought out Merlin to that end, but was foiled by Eupheme (ll. 6457-6460).

He is also accused of liking “young men a lot” and being an “herite” (ll. 3945-3947).

“Heretic” came to be synonymous with “sodomite” in late medieval France.

Eupheme/Eufeme

Eufeme/Eupheme is sent to marry King Evan to stop a war. She arrives with her black hair on a boat which also carries black horses to be gifted to the king (ll. 231-233).

She falls ill upon arrival delaying the wedding, but it happens three days later.

She tries to seduce Silence, and is described as being “highly skilled in such matters” (l. 3713). She is also described as loving and feeling “anguished yearning…/for this young man who was a girl (ll. 3698-3704).

Another of Eupheme’s lovers is a nun who is revealed to be “a man” near the end.

This plot point has been referred to by other scholars as further suggesting her preferences for women.

The gendered hegemony is perpetuated at the end of the narrative when Eufeme is executed by equine quartering (l. 6656). This was a common sentence for sodomy.

Adjectives used for Eufeme include: “female satan/cis sathanas” and “lady harlot/la dame fole” (l. 6273).

The Nun

A nun is in Queen Eupheme’s entourage when they intercept Silence bringing Merlin to the king.

While dressed as a nun, she/her pronouns are used for this character: she said/fait ele (l. 6250).

The nun is then revealed by Merlin in his long, riddle-like speech to be “Eufeme’s lover/… deceiving [the king] in woman’s dress” (ll. 6531-6532).

The gendered hegemony is reinforced once again when the nun is made to strip before the king (ll.6570-6571), and then executed with Eufeme (ll. 6655).

Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace

Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace

Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace
Artist: Ustad (Master) Ruknuddin
Date & Location: c. 1666, Bikaner
Media: Watercolour, ink, and gold on paper
Where can I see this artwork? Metropolitan Museum of Art (not currently on display)

Significance to Queer Art History

A piece such as Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace makes us ask the question: what qualifies as ‘queer art history’?

Ustad Ruknuddin was a master painter at the Rajput Court of Bikaner between 1650-1697. His patron was Maharaja Anup Singh. In its historical context this painting is rife with political commentary, and it is a hybrid of Mughal and Rajput painting traditions. It was likely commissioned to present the women as luxurious goods and signifiers of Anup Singh being an insan-i kamil (an ideal man and ruler).

Laura Mulvey has written about “the male gaze” — and her scholarship has many critics and successors. Considered in its historical context, this painting is well-suited to an analysis of “the male gaze” and the representation of women by men for the pleasure of other men.

But this painting also still exists. It is in the Metropolitan Museum right now. I would propose that we can queer (verb) this painting. Contemporary lesbian viewers might also connect to — and derive pleasure from — this 17th century representation of intimacy and affection between two women.

What’s to stop us from claiming the contemporary “lesbian gaze” and bringing this piece into our own ‘art hirstory’ collections?

Interactions between contemporary lesbian (or otherwise “heterosyncratic”) viewers and this painting could create new meaning(s) and give it new relevance.

Shared Vocabulary

The term “heterosynchratic” is adapted from the work of Karma Lochrie to imply all gazes beyond the cis-heteronormative “male gaze.”

Mulvey’s “the male gaze” focuses on the way film is designed “according to male fantasies of voyeurism and fetishism,” and it is easily applied to other media, such as painting.

Resources

Chaudhuri, Shohini. Feminist Film Theorists: Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa De Lauretis, Barbara Creed. London: Routledge, 2006.

Kim, Dorothy. “Remaking History: Lesbian Feminist Historical Methods in the Digital Humanities,” in Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and Digital Humanities,
ed. Elizabeth Losh and Jaqueline Wernimont, 131-156.

Lal, Ruby. “Hierarchies of Age and Gender in the Mughal Construction of Domesticity and Empire.” In : University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Lochrie, Karma. Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality when Normal Wasn’t. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Manlove, Clifford T. “Visual “Drive” and Cinematic Narrative: Reading Gaze Theory in Lacan, Hitchcock, and Mulvey.” Cinema Journal 46, no. 3 (2007): 83-108. Accessed April 2, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30130530.

Ramos, Imma. “‘Private Pleasures’ of the Mughal Empire.” Art History 37, no. 3 (2014): 408-427.

Joyene Nazatul

Joyene Nazatul

A black background with white text reading "To Mum (Love, Me)" in handwriting.
Click image to watch: To Mum (Love, Me) by Joyene Nazatul

To Mum (Love, Me)

Artist (director): Joyene Nazatul

Date & Location: 2015, Singapore

Media: Film

Where can I see this artwork?: viddsee.com/video/to-mum-love-me

Significance to Queer Art History:

Joyene Nazatul is a non-binary multidisciplinary artist hailing from the tiny island state of Singapore. Joyene was a filmmaker and writer who currently spends most of their time creating furniture in their new home in Victoria, BC. They also performs as the drag artist Noah Lott and continues to create art through a variety of media.

Ethel May (Monte) Punshon (1882-1989)

Ethel May (Monte) Punshon (1882-1989)

Untitled
Artist: Ethel May (Monte) Punshon
Date & Location: c. 1923-mid 1950s, Australia.
Media: Scrapbook (newspaper clippings, primarily)
Where can I see this artwork? Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Significance to Queer Art History

Monte Punshon’s two scrapbooks are a collection of clippings many of which focus on women in same-sex relationships and women challenging gender norms. She was also a photographer, visual artist, performer, and teacher. Punshon created these scrapbooks for over three decades, but lived to be 106. She came out at 103 and met her last partner, Margaret, at the age of 101.

On a personal note, I chose Punshon’s work because this is my first post as curator of Queer Art History. She is iconic in many ways, and certainly as a collector of pieces of visual culture that affirmed her identities. What did Casey do here, and what will I do here, if not something similar for all of us?

Monte Punshon, facing slightly left, wears suit and tie with slick hair and a soft smile in this black and white photograph.
Monte Punshon, c. 1930s. Published in City Rhythm magazine, 1985

Resources and Further Reading

Brickell, Chris, and Judith Collard. Queer Objects. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2019.

Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas is a black queer artist who uses mixed media to create large pieces of her muses, mostly black women from different races, sexualities, gender identities, and expressions.

Featured Artwork: Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires (Translates to: Two Black Women)

Date & Location: (2013) by Mickalene Thomas (Born 1971)

Media: Photography, collage, and woodblock print processes

Where can I view this artwork?: Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University in Ithica, NY (USA)

Significance to Queer Art History: This selected work from Mickalene Thomas is part of her series “Origin of the Universe” that draws from “traditional” (Read: white-centered art history) paintings. Thomas combines the pose and intention from Gustave Courbet’s Le Sommeil (Translates to: “The Sleepers”) from 1866 with her own photography and processes as a claim of black women’s place in media and art as erotic and soft, just as the women in Courbet’s painting are portrayed.

Courbet’s Le Sommeil:

Resources & Further Reading: 

Gonzalez, Desi. “MICKALENE THOMAS- Origin of the Universe.” The Brooklyn Rail. Accessed June 2017. http://brooklynrail.org/2012/11/artseen/mickalene-thomas-origin-of-the-universe.

“Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires.” Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Accessed June 2017. http://museum.cornell.edu/collections/modern-contemporary/mixed-media/sleep-deux-femmes-noires.

Gustave Courbet- Le Sommeil (The Sleepers)

Gustave Courbet- Le Sommeil (The Sleepers)

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was known for his realistic depictions humans and his sometimes even “gritty” depictions of life and the body as seen through the eye.

During his time as a realist, women’s rights movements in the US and across some of Europe were just getting into their places of mobilization. While many men at this time were “distraught”, they were also calmed by art of a voyeuristic nature to that surged at this time as Romantic authors and artists hinted into the “secret” and romantic lives of women.

Featured Artwork: Le Sommeil (The Sleepers)

Date & Location: 1866 in Paris, France

Media: Oil painting

Where can I view this artwork?: The Petit Palais in Paris, France

Significance to Queer Art History: Le Sommeil  was commissioned by the Turkish Ambassador to Paris for his private collection. This painting was catered to the male gaze in this way and for the fact that men at this time were indeed, interested in looking into the romantic lives of women who loved women for their own pleasure. While this is, one can see that the women’s bodies are realistic and curved instead of (to put this plainly for the times) “photoshopped” into magazine figures. This shows Courbet’s eye for realism. The strewn objects (pearls, hair clips, and blankets) are also in a fashion that shows prior activity and lust after one another between the women.

Resources & Further Reading:

“The Sleepers.” Petit Palais. October 03, 2016. Accessed August 2017. http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en/oeuvre/sleepers.

Saslow

https://www.jstor.org/stable/1483342?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Titian- Diana and Actaeon

Titian- Diana and Actaeon

Titian (1488-1576) , born in Venice, Italy as  Tiziano Vecellio or Tiziano Vecelli was known as the greatest renaissance painter of the Venetian school of art. His works centered on common catholic religious art and classical scenes from Greek and Roman mythology as the aesthetics and lore of ancient Greece and Rome were popularized once more during the Italian Renaissance.

 Featured Artwork: Diana and Actaeon

Date and location: 1556-59 in Venice, Italy

Media: Oil painting

Where can I find this artwork?: The National Gallery in London, England

Significance to Queer Art History: 

This painting centers on Actaeon the hunter and his incident of stumbling upon Diana, the goddess of the moon, the hunt, and fertility, (Also known as Artemis in Greek mythology) along with her attendants. This painting takes place right before the hunter is turned into a stag and hunted for lurking in their space. The painting symbolizes male fear and lust for pursuing desires that aren’t meant to be shared with them, hence Diana’s sensuous relationships with her attendants.

Resources & Further Reading: 

Saslow, James M. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York, NY: Viking, 2000. 107-108

“Titian’s ‘Diana and Actaeon’.” National Gallery. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/research/titians-diana-and-actaeon.

Wethey, Harold E. “Titian.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed August 07, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Titian.

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.

 

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.