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Old 5th December 2005   #3
Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 1,784
Default Re: Crystal Renn: Opulence in Italy

The reference to Cleopatra is quite perceptive, and invites another interpretation of the third image, above, showing Crystal lying on the bed, with her eyes shut. The theme of the "Death of Cleopatra"--who famously committed suicide by allowing herself to be bitten by an asp (a poisonous serpent)--has been one of the dominant motifs in Western art since Classical antiquity, and could well be the subject that the photographer meant to reference, in Crystal's bed image.

Here, for example, is an interpretation of The Death of Cleopatra (1796-97), by Jean-Baptiste Regnault:

Note that the gilded edges of Cleopatra's death-bed resemble those of the couch on which Crystal is lying.

And not only do artists frequently exhibit the dying Cleopatra positioned in a sensual pose, but many even fix onto her visage a look of voluptuous rapture, as if this celebrated femme fatale died, as she lived, in a transport of physical ecstasy.

We see this element in Arthur Reginald's version of the event:

How fitting that Crystal should have acknowledged this visual tradition in her own passionate facial expression. Her serpentine bracelet, then, becomes a visual cue, reminding the viewer of the poisonous asp, and further connecting the image to the Cleopatra theme.

And the association of Cleopatra with plus-size beauty is only natural, since the Egyptian queen was well known to possess a generous love of food. History has recorded that one of Anthony's approaches to wooing his beloved empress of the Nile was to treat her to a banquet on a truly legendary scale. In fact, this theme, The Banquet of Cleopatra, is second only to Cleopatra's death as the most frequently-depicted episode in her celebrated life . . .

* * *

Looking at the images in Kirsten's link, above, which are stills from the film version of Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, one is struck by just how curvaceous Ms. Taylor is, in this movie. Her full figure more closely resembles that of a plus-size model than any of the modern actresses who are commonly dubbed "curvy" (such as Catherine Zeta-Jones, or Jennifer Lopez).

This makes it particularly appropriate that the film includes a scene showing a sculptor immortalizing the beauty of Cleopatra/Taylor's luscious curves in marble:

And in their exciting historicism, many of Taylor's costumes in the film boldly anticipate today's "New Femininity" in fashion:

Interestingly, Elizabeth Taylor--who, like so many of history's greatest beauties (including Cleopatra herself) possessed a lavish appetite--gained considerable weight during the filming of Cleopatra, as if she were channeling the spirit of the famously voluptuous Egyptian queen.

In his book about the Hollywood film industry, titled Fiasco, author James Robert Parish records that

Because of Taylor's ever-fluctuating weight, her nearly sixty costumes—including a $6,500 form-fitting gold dress—had to be constantly revamped.

Ms. Taylor may have been channelling the spirit of Cleopatra in another way, as well. Like a true femme fatale, she was seducing her co-star, Richard Burton, even though Burton was already married (as was Taylor herself).

No one has yet drawn the obvious conclusion about Taylor's figure-improvement during this film--i.e., that the actress gained weight specifically in order to seduce Burton, who initially resisted her charms. Taylor undoubtedly knew that with an even softer, fuller appearance, Burton would find her physically irresistible. And sure enough, it worked--for Taylor and Burton became Hollywood's preeminent couple, in a scandalous development that was regarded as a conquest worthy of Cleopatra herself.

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