|19th January 2006||#1|
Join Date: July 2005
Indulgence is no vice
The present-day association of beauty with diet-starvation and with exercise torture would have struck anyone living prior to 1900 as incomprehensible.
From the dawn of Classical civilization, right up until the 20th century, feminine beauty was equated with a tendency towards sensual indolence, and with a healthy delight in self-indulgence.
However, the transition from the Classical to the Christian age, at the time of the late Roman Empire, did initiate a moral revaluation of traditionally luxurious depictions of femininity. Rather than being worshipped as goddesses, well-fed beauties suddenly became regarded as temptresses, as femmes fatales. The dangerous associations of voluptuousness originated during this time--and lived on, well into the modern age.
But although the advent of Christianity reoriented society's moral compass with respect to these feminine characters, post-Classical artists never questioned their beauty of voluptuous vixens, even as they censured them for perceived moral shortcomings.
Was full-figured femininity considered dangerous? Yes. Sinful? Definitely. Morally suspect? Of course. But even to its greatest critics, its attractions remained undeniable.
One work of literature that captures the precise moment when the assessment of Classical femininity shifted from sacred to profane, from benevolent to dangerous, is a poem titled Psychomachia, penned by a Late Roman writer named Prudentius. Written in the 4th or 5th century A.D., this poem was composed as a time when Roman civilization was in its death-throes, and when the sun was setting on history's greatest empire.
her beauty inspires the army
But the beauty that she exhibits is not a generic form of comeliness, but rather, it is specifically the soft, luxurious beauty that had been the ideal of femininity since earliest Antiquity.
Her curls are perfumed, her restless eyes are not still,
And he ascribes to her a love of ease, and la dolce vita:
She lives for pleasure,
The virtue who opposes Indulgence admonishes her by stating,
You have revelled in your excess of sweetness.
Prudentius also bestows three handmaidens on Indulgence, who personify aspects of her own nature: "Vanity," "Allurement," and "Pleasure."
As she arrives on the scene she is lazy . . .
If Indulgence reminds you of any other icon of womanly beauty, she should. Although Prudentius does not make the connection explicit, his description of Indulgence clearly associates her with Venus, the Classical goddess of beauty, whose
delight is all in joyfulness,
(as Spenser writes in The Faerie Queene, III.vi.22).
She does not shoot arrows from her bow, no lances
Prudentius also associates Indulgence/Venus with the opulent trappings that have ever been associated with voluptuous beauty, and contribute to its allure:
They put down their spears and their feeble hands are still
Ultimately, of course, Indulgence is defeated by her opposing virtue, in order to reaffirm the poem's moral imperative. But the subversive power of this "vice" is undeniable, and to any reader who approaches the work aesthetically rather than didactically, she remains the poem's most captivating figure.
Whether it was considered a virtue (as in the Classical age), or a dangerous but alluring vice (as in the early Christian age), or a mixture of both (as in the Renaissance, and ever afterwards), voluptuous beauty was held in awe throughout Western history. Only in our modern age, which is in the grip of alien ideologies that run contrary to the legacy of Western culture, has this timeless association between beauty and indulgence been obscured.
Last edited by HSG : 27th November 2009 at 08:12.
|19th January 2006||#2|
Join Date: August 2005
Re: Indulgence is no vice
What I enjoy about the classical (and then Renaissance and Romantic) writers is their skill in expressing their concerns with the art of metaphor and symbol, in stark contrast to modern times in which imagination has been compromised by insistence on literalism and polemics.
|19th January 2006||#3|
Join Date: July 2005
Re: Indulgence is no vice
I'm not surprised that indulgence has been associated with feminine beauty throughout history. It seems like a much more natural connection than trying to pretend that deprivation and anorexia are somehow attractive. Whenever I hear Hollywood's starlets praised for being "beautiful" when they all look like diseased famine victims, practically on the point of death, I shake my head in disbelief.
And reading this post reminded me just how subversive Mode magazine really was. It not only revived the Classical ideal of beauty in the physical form of contemporary plus-size models, but also the quintessentially feminine attributes that were associated with it, such as a love of pleasure and "the sweet life" (in every sense of the word).
Today, when there is so much warfare in the world, it's hard to fault a goddess (even one who has been transformed into a "vice") who can stop a battle with "scatter[ed] blossoms" and "baskets of violets and roses."
And pictures like Barbara's masterpiece, featured in this thread, make me believe that if Titian or Botticelli had ever encountered a model as beautiful as she, the history of painting would be blessed with even greater works of art than it currently possesses.
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