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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Beyoncé, Titian and Me, Drunkenness and Power in the Italian Renaissance Nude

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Cristina Ceddia
My mother booked into the Mercy Maternity Hospital to have me, very trendy and competitive to hold a place, given babies were booming back then! After my non-arrival on or around my due date, Mary consulted her doctor. In tears she explained, “I have been pregnant for 11 months.” Another re-calculation was made, and it was determined my due date was November and not September or October as first thought. Sadly, for my mum, who believed status mattered, the only hospital available was St. Vincent's, she lost her prized place for our birth. You see mum's background was Italian. She was still breast feeding my brother when she noticed some spotting. Her Aunties told her “you are gone!” The spotting meant, according to the backyard medics, that she was pregnant, when in fact she wasn't. To add insult to my birth, the Doctor who was meant to deliver me, was out playing golf, it was a Monday afternoon. When I arrived the Midwifes determined I was premature. And the Doctor was horrified that he had so let my mother down. He promised he would make it up to her next baby and was dully present when my sister was born almost three years later. I am the second child of four children, my bother is sixteen months older and the last sibling, also a brother, is almost eight years my junior. My sister, mum's biggest baby and me, mum's smallest baby, clashed. Sadly, my younger brother has an intellectual disability and this, along with my mother’s battle with Lupus shaped my childhood. My Birth Certificate states Rathdowne Street Carlton as my place of residence, a safe haven for Italian's back then. I am Australian, my mother Australian, but this did not stop me from being picked on and called contaminated by the Irish Catholic stock at my primary school in East Bentleigh. When I was born my mother looked at me and looked at her skin and my father's skin and thought, "I know we are dark but not that dark." It was in fact jaundice, she was seeing a yellow that naturally disguised ‘fair’ olive skin. I was also covered with hair and the mop on my head looked as though I was ready for my first haircut, a family characteristic from my father’s side. As you can tell, both mother and daughter were traumatised by the birth and already my mother was worried about how society was going to react towards my skin tone. So, I can well imagine what it feels like to be born black. There are things about my childhood that society needs to feel ashamed of and like a sponge, I felt deeply a longing to belong. Black Lives Matter!

Author (blog) Jill Burke

Jill Burke’s blog can be evaluated as an art essay on “how culture works and to whom it belongs”. Burke argues that the emergence of the renaissance nude marked social class, an appetite for classical mythology, male power, privilege, dominance, virility and man’s sexual power over women; Burke asserts Renaissance Art is where ‘social hierarchy began’ thus also heralding the birth of the ‘boy’s club.’ Nudes were largely for ‘his’ wealthy eyes-only and the property of the rich and royal.

Gluttony, lust, drunkenness, erotic food, an orgy of nude women was justified by the renewed interest in classical mythology. The female nude was carefully crafted in line with Christian virtue by referencing the pagan as a delicacy for men. Juxtaposing this, powerful men, commissioned artworks in status defining robes and codpieces to peacock in a more ‘modest’ lewd, flamboyant fashion their sexual virility.

Burke is saying the tradition of Adam and Eve and original sin has been justifiably dismissed because of the refined drunkenness, the shielding of women, the power of art, knowledge and man need to partake in procreation; if you are male, privileged, powerful, in need of an heir, then it’s the norm to be fashionable and to show off in the most tasteful and refined manner. Burke draws on various paintings by Renaissance artists to back up her argument and sums up her account with the title “Beyoncé, Titian and Me, Drunkenness’ and Power in the Italian Renaissance Nude.”

In classical times there was no shame in nudity, there was no Christianity or myth about Adam and Eve and our propensity to sin.

The Classical were very practical and shameless especially the Ancient Greeks, the Romans were more about romance. The Renaissance rebirthed the classical nude as an intoxicating cocktail of soft pornography mixed with Christian virtue, in the most delicious and lavish way by separating virginity from lust via imagery.

The Goddess Aphrodite (who fashionably became Venus) is today’s aphrodisiac or love drug. Related words to metamorphosis are rebirth, evolution and change therefore nudity changed with Renaissance fashion, Burke successfully argues that the fashionable man’s club continues today by referencing Beyoncé, a living breathing Venus. Burke’s analysis is as compelling as a Titian nude.

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