Sunday, June 30, 2024

Queer in Art

Yesterday, we celebrated Pride Day, and it made me think what the celebration was about. Obviously, it is in acknowledgment that people of all persuasions should be accepted as they are and not be judged.

There is an entire segment of this country and probably the world that finds the LGBTQ+ community to be aberrant and a relatively new phenomenon. A common saying is that “A picture is worth a thousand words” so I want to look at some images from the past in order to show that this is nothing new.

My wife who attended the Institute of Fine Arts in New York often speaks of her professor who told his students that their papers should walk on their footnotes.

Here, I wish my Missive to stand on its images ...

If you are aware of history or more specifically art history, you know that images of queer couples and other manners of sexuality have existed as far back as images have been recorded. Books have been written about these subjects and I am not looking at queer artists or philosophies but just works of art in Western Culture and no further afield for this brief Missive.

There is no direct proof of queer men and women in Ancient Egypt but there is circumstantial evidence in some of the art. In this illustration we have two women assumed to be married as well as two men kising, depicted below (circa 2494-2345 BCE) who were buried together by their families. I have also included a more complete image of the two men.

Ancient Greece is better known as the beginning of depictions of homosexuals and lesbians. There is so much material here but one image that any collector would covet is this group of Lydian women. The kingdom of Lydia, in what is now Turkey, is recorded to have existed over 3 dynasties during the late Bronze age reaching its highest achievements during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.

Then a bit later there is a courting couple illustrated on the interior of an Attic Greek Cup. The painter is said to be from Colmar circa 500-450 BCE. The object is in the Louvre.

After Greece, the next great period for art is in ancient Rome and here we find a fragment of a wall fresco showing two women dating back 1-75 CE.

An example of crossdressing or transgender identity dating from In Medieval is represented by St. Eugenia. On the 24th December the Eastern Orthodox Church remembers St Eugenia / Eugenios (monk) of Alexandria, one of the group of female saints in the early church who dressed as men to be admitted to all-male monasteries.

Then, of course, we come upon many examples of our theme dating from the Renaissance. Aside from nonspecific gender cavorting angels, a good example might be “Caravaggio’s, The Musicians (1595) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Two Women Surprised by a Cat by Jean Alphonse Roehn, French (1799-1864) does not have to be explained.

At the beginning of the next century, we find Picasso exploring the subject with two women.

The New Museum’s 2021 Triennial showed a very large painting by Anbera Wellman (1982- ). Here is the painting and a detail to bring our tour near a close.

When we get into the twentieth century and abstract art, it is more difficult to find examples in paintings, but we do have plenty of material in photography, for instance, Diane Arbus’s “Female Intimacy”.

I will end with a 21st-century photographic image by Clifford Prince King.

Clearly, queerness in its many manifestations has been with us since the beginning of time and always will be. It is part of many cultures in our diverse world.

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