The temptress, the martyr, the virgin: these are just a few of the archetypal images of women that have been portrayed in literature throughout history. One of the oldest books is the Bible, and much like the mythical Greek gods and goddesses, the characters from the religious text have been replicated in visual art, especially during the Renaissance in Europe.
The current exhibit at Florida International University's Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, "Dangerous Women: Selections from the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art," presents images of females from the Bible as portrayed by 16th and 17th-century artists, including Pietro da Cortona and Jan Saenredam. The exhibition concludes with modern and contemporary representations: Robert Henri's sensuous Salome from 1901 and Mickalene Thomas’ Portrait of Mamma Bush I from 2010, a reminder of consistent interest in the subject from the past until the present.
The Bible, along with other religious texts, is notorious for conceiving women as dangerous temptresses. The very fall of man was supposedly caused by a woman, Eve in the garden.
- What is it about some women that makes them so dangerous?
- Are they a threat to the patriarchal power structures?
- Are dangerous women synonymous with powerful women?
During the Renaissance the most powerful thing a woman could be was virtuous. On Saturday Feb. 17, during the exhibition opening day, there was a panel discussing feminism in art history and the lives of women in Renaissance society. The panelist included Kimberly Dennis, Ph.D, Associate Professor in the Department of Art & Art History and Program in Sexuality, Women’s & Gender Studies, Rollins College; Mary D. Garrard, Ph.D, Professor Emerita of Art History, American University; and Guido Ruggiero, Ph.D, Professor of history and College of Arts and Sciences Cooper Fellow, University of Miami.
Dennis said that she asked her students: "What is the most powerful thing a woman can be today? Her students replied, "Sexy." "Is this real power?" she asked the audience.
Garrard said that sexual power is not intellectual or political power. "I wouldn't want that kind of power," she stated. "Sexualizing a woman is a device to keep her disempowered."
This exhibition, on display through May 20, 2018, has been organized by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida, and Florida State University. The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum is located at 10975 S.W. 17th St., on the campus of Florida International University. Admission is free. Go to https://frost.fiu.edu for more information.