(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, March 21st, 2004, in response to a reply by Melanie to the above essay, in which she enthused about the serpentine styles that were also among the aforementioned couture trends.)
- Beyond the shadow of the ship
- I watched the water-snakes:-The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
- They moved in tracks of shining white
- And when they reared, the elfish light
- Fell off in hoary flakes.
- Within the shadow of the ship
- I watched their rich attire:
- Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
- They coiled and swam; and every track
- Was a flash of golden fire.
- O happy living things! no tongue
- Their beauty might declare:
- A spring of love gushed from my heart,
- And I blessed them unaware.
For obvious reasons (including the parts that they play in the stories of Eve and Cleopatra), serpents have been a part of "femme fatale" iconography throughout the history of Western art. Snakes have often been used to accentuate feminine curves, and to emphasize their dangerous allure. Perhaps this is yet another reason why the media resists plus-size beauty. Male participants fear for their very souls, knowing that voluptuous seductresses can enslave them on sight.
Here is one of the most famous paintings depicting the intimidating qualities of full-figured femininity and its serpentine charm. The title of the work is (what else?) Sin (1893), and it is an open question which element in the canvas is most vividly representative of sinfulness--the snake, or the curvaceous temptress around whom he has wrapped himself. The artist, Franz von Stuck, painted countless versions of this subject throughout his life, utterly beguiled by his own creation, in a characteristic example of German cultural obsession:
And here is John Collier's Lilith (1887), whose fair features belie her perilous attractions. Indeed, it would appear as if the serpent in this painting has itself been bewitched by her irresistible beauty:
Long before Nastassja Kinski accessorized with a python in the famous photograph recreated by Marie Claire in its recent "Shape" issue, sinfully luxuriant sirens were often depicted in the embrace of curve-caressing vipers. How fitting that, to accompany the delicate, almost angelic styles that are currently reappearing in fashion, some darker symbols of feminine fascination should be revived as well . . .
- A poem for the ages . . .