Feminism and Art History

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The history of mankind has often been captured in snapshots between the rise and fall of great leaders and civilizations, by artists all with a common dream of portraying what they saw during their times. Ideologies reflective of their societies were depicted through sculptures, frescoes, pottery, paintings, and many other methods. Many of these principals were created, celebrated, and popularized by constituents of societies where andocentric values were applied not only to social and political mores, but also to the various art forms as the male body was cherished and praised and the female body was hidden away from public view. The book Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany edited by Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrad, strives to examine the role of women in art history as well as articulating the pleasures and problems of artistic pieces in a contemporary feminist vantage point. According to Broude and Garrad in the introduction, modern feministic views have changed the scope of art history in that "…feminism has raised fundamental questions for art history as a humanistic discipline, questions that are now affecting its functioning at all levels and that may ultimately lead to its definition." In this book they have dissected widely accepted paradigms of the beauty aesthetic, which directly challenges the idolization of the male physique.

In the chapter entitled "Matrilineal Reinterpretation of Some Egyptian Sacred Cows" by Nancy Luomala the concept of power is discussed as Luomala scrutinizes the ancient power structures of Egyptian society, and how in fact it's actually through matrilineal descent that men were able to receive the status of Pharaoh. Luomala theorizes that it was the Egyptian "Great Wife that made whomever she married into a living king. (Luomala pg.30) I found her analysis of the definitions of the ancient symbolism in regards to power and kinship, and how she uses the different images and monuments to elucidate her argument intriguing.

Through images such as the cow deity, a sycamore, the cobra, horns, sun disk, and vultures the symbols of female royalty graced the art forms of Egypt, and represented regeneration, birth, life, power, and sustenance. The author also made it clear through constant repetition that the hand of power in Egypt wasn't the Pharaoh but it was the Queen. The Queen was the one who passed the power on through her daughters, through marriage, or through her bloodline with male relatives and uses many examples of historically famous Pharaohs. Tutankhamen became king because he married one of Queen Nefertiti's daughters, Ankhesenamon, and upon the death of Tutankhamen Ankhesenamon succeeded the throne because of his blood relationship with Queen Nefertiti. (Luomala pg. 21). Another example used was about the reign of Queen Hatshepsut and how although married, she retained power because she didn't allow any of her husbands to rule as pharaoh. Therefore Hatshepsut legitimizes the fact that women were the actual heirs to the throne and also the ones that passed it down when they chose to. Thus, Luomala deems, Egyptian art needs to be reexamined so that the definitions of succession and dynasty reflect the matrilineal aspects.

The next chapter I read was Social Status and Gender in Roman Art: The Case of the Saleswoman by Natalie Boymel Kampen which talks about the different roles gender and social class played in professions in ancient Rome. One of the contributions of art is that art can tell people from later generations, social truths about a society. Kampen strives to show how gender and social status "…interacted as determinants of visual images along with […] other variables as period, artists' or patron's taste, or function of an object." (Kampen pg. 63). Kampen explains how Roman society was patriarchal and that behaviors were results of status and gender power relationships. Roman women had a difficult position in their society in that although they were...
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