After identifying Judith you might ask, okay so how do you know if it’s Salome? It’s a little easier. But unlike Judith, Salome is more of a background character. A pawn. But from famous paintings, you might not think so.
So here’s a thing you may see at museums: lovely ladies with luscious locks with a chopped off head in tow.
It’s a strangely common trope. Once you notice it, you’ll see it everywhere. Who are these women? Why are they chopping off dudes heads and looking quite chummy about it, too?
The Queen of Sheba has always been an ungraspable figure in my imagination, a multi-faceted enigmatic goddess that whips away as soon as you begin to grasp her. But did you know she had hairy legs?
Beauty standards change as do reflections of beauty and the ideal body in art. Indeed, sometimes portraits start to look alike in some eras, like in Sir Peter Lely’s entourage of heavy-lidded beauties.
In the Middle Ages to the early Renaissance, the rage was pot bellies and hairless forms.
(I’m not going to lie I just wanted to use this beautiful image of a man-pony – illuminated manuscripts are the best.)
Often to be portrayed hairy was to be wild or sinful. Hairiness of body equated to an animal-like nature, like the lustful satyrs, wild hair of the maenads, or the devil itself. But also, as some have noted, there might have been a historic need to remove body hair, as it could be breeding ground for lice and vermin. I mean, there is a supposed downfall in pubic lice because of public grooming.
But really, haven’t we always modified our bodies to fit some unattainable standard?
I kept stumbling across this strange gesture when looking at European portraiture in the 1500s.
Essentially it’s a hand with extended fingers splayed across the chest with two middle fingers joined. It’s an elegant pose but it’s an unnatural one for your hand to be in, it can even hurt.
Try it now, I’ll wait.
Not exactly comfortable, huh? So why is it seemingly everywhere?
It’s known from mannerist paintings, most famously in the work of the master El Greco, like in the examples above. But it can be seen across Western European art spanning centuries.
There’s just one problem, no one really knows what it means.