Wednesday, February 11, 2009

St Agatha & Sexualized Women in Religious Art

St Agatha - and the gruesome story of her martyrdom. Apparently a spurned admirer turned her in to the authorities during an era when Christians were being martyred. She served a sentence in a brothel, then went to prison, and was there tortured by having her breasts cut off. I think the idea of sexual attraction, lasciviousness, and piety is virtually inseparable in this image. Interesting that this has become a theme recently on this blog (here and here). Thanks, as ever, to Terry from Idle Speculations for the image and the commentary. You do a great job! Here's some of Terry's discussion of the erotic in religious art:

There are clear signs from the picturer that the female figure portrayed is meant to be as beautiful and erotically desirable as the Venus sculpture it mimics.

The facial type of Sebastiano's Saint Agatha was in vogue in Rome at the time. It is the probable representation of a contemporary woman in the guise of a saint, presented semi-naked in the pose of a fragment of a classical sculpture of Venus

It is clearly documented that at this time there was a problem calling up lascivious rather than pious desire in the viewer through images of beautiful saints.

It was against paintings such as these that the reformers in the Council of Trent railed and acted against. In 1563, the Council of Trent ruled that in religious images, "figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust."

The reformers were not exercising a prudish dislike of nudity, but were consciously rejecting a new genre of image, one that deliberately, and intentionally, exploited equivocal--and sometimes contradictory--social notions about flesh, sexuality, and spirituality.

I wonder also about the "story" or "narrative" itself. What do we make of the spurned guy? And does Agatha's eventual achievement of sainthood diminish his jerk status? I don't think so...

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

Sta Agata is the patron saint of Catania, our local city!
I thought that she was betrothed to a pagan and refused to marry him - that would explain his anger towards her!
A local pastry here is called Sta Agata's nipple, casatine, and it's a cake mound filled with sweet pistachio (?) and covered with hard sugar icing. There's usually a cherry on top of the cake, under the icing.
There is definitely something in the Sicilian culture that demands that the object of affection/degradation is put in your mouth...