Hey! I feel like it’s been *years* since I last posted, and I miss you! Everything is working together pretty well in my corner of the universe, and soon I’ll have some new, pretty, shiny patterns to show for my time spent being a hermit in my drafting cave.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I don’t put much value in modern representations of women in the media- “fashion” photography portraying anorexic teens, predatory advertising that exploits our insecurities, shallow representations of femininity in entertainment and trumped-up cultural clashes such as the famous “Mommy Wars.”
(What a joke, amirite? Wait, wait, I’m supposed to aspire to conform to these images, tropes, and caricatures flung at me? That’s definitely a joke.)
I like to look for strong, positive representations of femininity elsewhere. One of my favorite places to mine is art history, and lately I’ve been really inspired by the artistic tradition of the Three Graces:
The Three Graces are ancient daughters of Zeus and handmaidens to the goddess of Love, Aphrodite. They’ve flitted through poetry, sculpture and paintings for the past 2000-odd years, subtly shifting shapes and changing their names to reflect the ideals of the artists they inspire. Depending who you ask, their names are Splendor, Mirth and Good Cheer or else Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance) and they represent qualities from charm to fertility to creativity.
The Metropolitan Museum says: “They bestow what is most pleasurable and beneficent in nature and society: fertility and growth, beauty in the arts, harmonious reciprocity… They enjoyed venerable cults in Greece and Asia Minor. In mythology, they play an attendant role, gracing festivals and organizing dances.”
The Graces play a supporting role in art, providing inspiration to artists and an idealization of admirable traits, embodied in the shame-free nudity of the female form. I especially love how the Three are represented as separate entities, different in their own ways and yet each a part of a harmonious whole. To me, this is an excellent representation of the power of female collaboration- three individuals combine to create a timeless icon portraying ideals that inspire artists even today. I like this much more than I like Mommy Wars and body-snarking on people who are fatter/skinnier/prettier/uglier than me.
The Three Graces are comfortable in their skins and at peace with each other. They are idealized, but imperfect. To me, that speaks of deep beauty, that beauty which can’t be seen but is felt.
Over the next couple of weeks, I want to post some of my favorite representations of the Three Graces and write a little reaction to the work, focusing mainly on the Three Graces in painting. It is not my intention to write a series of scholarly art history posts. Instead, I’d rather start some friendly discussions with y’all about the changing nature of female beauty (physical and spiritual) through the centuries and how that can relate to us today in our image-obsessed culture. I think it’s also a great way to add a little variety in our visual diets.
Would you like to play? What do you think about these Graces? They’re Roman, 2nd century, housed at the Metropolitan Museum and fairly representative of classical depictions of the Graces in sculpture.
I look at this and see nudity without lust, beauty without perfection, a marble representation of fairly ordinary female bodies with no faces but still exuding personality. There’s no eroticism, no symmetry in their arrangement. In fact I think I can see a little bit of “back squidge” on our Graces! Yet there they stand- sinuous, graceful, timeless. They’re blank marble, ready to receive our projections of female Grace.
What names would you give your own Three Graces? I think mine are Joy, Mirth, and Creativity.