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artistic representation

 

This tag is used for discussing visual art depicting sex between women or lesbian characters from literature.

LHMP entry

This chapter looks at the role of imagination, spectacle, and accusation in shaping understandings of female same-sex relations. These understandings, in turn, could create or enable same-sex erotic possibilities for their consumers. There is a contrast between writers who denied the possibility of desire between women and the regular use of female homoerotic imagery in popular culture. Spectacles involving female homoeroticism were meant to warn and punish, but could also inform and educate.

Mills asks (rhetorically) why medievalists rarely discuss transgender frameworks of interpretation, given that medieval people had much clearer ideas about that topic than anything that might be called “sexuality.” Moral polemics focused less on sex acts themselves, than on disruptions of gender, in particular those that violated the strict binary contrast of “male = active, female = passive.” Androgynous (or intersex) persons were recognized as existing, but were required to choose a consistent binary gender identity (or celibacy).

The introduction begins with a consideration of the play Il Pastor Fido (The Faithful Shepherd) and the interpretation of a key scene in art, when the shepherd Mirtillo -- having disguised himself as a woman to gain access to the object of his desire, the nymph Amarillis -- comes upon the nymphs holding a kissing competition among themselves. He enters the competition (still in disguise) and is crowned the victor by Amarillis (the scene commonly portrayed in paintings).

Medieval Indian devotional mystical texts included representations at love between women. These do not necessarily represent societal approval of lesbian relationships and typically frame the sakhi or female friend as an adjunct and assistant to the primary relationship with a man or god. In this the sakhi functions like a mirror of the self.

In my opinion, the article overstates the lack of a vocabulary for women to express same-sex desire though it points out tendency for records to be filtered through hostile lenses. As a symbol of the problems with the evidence, it looks at an image of two women kissing while dancing from the Roman de la Rose as symbolic of desire being evident and overt without being clearly categorized or named.

Interpreting the meaning and context of Greek pottery art is far from straightforward. The modern framing as valuable “fine art” is to a large extent a by-product of the antiquities trade and it must be remembered that these vessels were originally created as a cheap imitation of fine metal utensils and, as such, might reasonably be viewed as “pop culture” works rather than the products of an artistic elite. These views make quite a difference in interpreting the depictions of women and their interrelationships with each other.

Although honoring the dead was a duty of Athenian citizens (i.e., men), the rituals of mourning and the work of tending to graves largely belonged to women. And an analysis of tombstones from the most important cemetery of 5-4th century Athens shows that women were more commonly featured on memorial carvings as well. Carved tomb markers frequently depict two or more figures: the deceased and persons who presumably were important in their life or who wished to be depicted as mourners.

Rehak works on reconstructing (or at least plausibly imagining) female-centered aspects of Cretan society based on a series of frescoes from one particular site on the island of Thera. Aegean art of this era (ca. 1700-1100 BCE) does not portray images of sexual intercourse or even displays of affection or intimacy (whether between members of the opposite or same sex).

This article provides a brief historic survey of evidence regarding love between women in Islamic societies. Classical treatises on sexual transgression discuss tribadism (sahq) from a male perspective. There are occasional comparisons to male homosexuality, but in general the two are considered distinct, except generally as vices. Popular imagination, (especially in western accounts) considered lesbianism common in harems.

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