Monday, December 29, 2008

Allegory Versus Reality.


 The complex history of the development and modification of Joan of Arc's posthumous reputation demonstrates how a historical figure can gradually assume allegorical and symbolic attributes, to the point where the real human personality almost vanishes beneath the weight of those accretions. Representations of women have also frequently acted as a vehicle for allegorical personification where no specific personality. They see it as a means of depriving women of their true personality is involved. Some contemporary feminist theorists object violently to this practice. They see it as a means of depriving women of their true personalities and of reducing them yet again to the status of objects.

    Nevertheless, some of these personifications have enjoyed a long life. A good example is Liberty Guiding the People, by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863). Painted in 1830, the picture commemorates the July Revolution which had just overthrown the restored Bourbons of the senior line and installed in their place the more liberal Louis Philippe. Liberty Guiding the People has been an enduring success, which has long transcended the political circumstances that gave it birth. The courageous, free-spirited woman whom Delacroix shows mounting the barricades has provided a role model for women in real life and also a useful template for compositions by other artist. Elizabeth Catlett (b.1919) clearly borrows from Delacroix in her powerful woodcut Harriet - an image by a black female artist celebrating Harriet Tubman (c. 1820 - 1913 ), perhaps the most prominent black woman in the movement for abolitionist John Brown referred to her admiringly as 'General Tubman'.

     The link between Catlett's composition and that of Delacroix raises a question often asked somewhat angrily by feminists - should one refer an image of this kinda by a woman to a male source, since this (in this view) tends to diminish female achievement? The answer is that Catlett, like many other women artist, belongs to a broad artistic tradition which includes both male and females. To identify the apparent source of an image gives a better idea of how it works in its new context, but does not necessarily make it either less original or less powerful.

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