Art in Translation First Prize Article Feminist art history

In 2012 I won first prize in a University of Edinburgh art history department competition that summoned students to submit groundbreaking articles to a journal dedicated to global art history Art in Translation. I successfully argued it was necessary to translate a publication from German to English by a feminist art historian Daniela Hammer-Tugendtat who was recognised in 2009 for the pioneering work in Feminist art history. Included in the article is my synopsis and introduction.


Art in Translation, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp. 361–382 DOI: 10.2752/175613112X13376070683397 Reprints available directly from the Publishers. Photocopying permitted by licence only.

© 2012 Berg.

Daniela Hammer- Tugendhat

Art, Sexuality, and Gender Constructions in Western Culture

Translated by

Michael Zanchi

First published in German as “Kunst, Sexualität und Geschlechterkonstruktionen in der abendländischen Kultur,” in Franz Eder and Sabine Frühstück (eds), Neue Geschichten der Sexualität. Beispiele aus Ostasien und Zentraleuropa 1700–2000 (Vienna: Turia & Kant, 2000), and in the web-based project: muSIEum displaying gender, Vienna, 2003.


This article interrogates constructs of sexuality and gender in Western art. Since the early Renaissance, art flaunts sexuality almost exclusively through the female nude, while the male body and desire remain invis- ible. In Titian’s erotic Danaë, Zeus is morphed into golden rain; in Rem- brandt’s version, he immaterializes into pure light; with Klimt’s Danaë, the sexual act becomes a female autoeroticism. Those images that show the male partner in sexual action and without mythological disguise are rare in Western art. The problem is not misogyny but asymmetry. Even modern and avant-garde artists perpetuate traditional conceptions362

Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat

that equate culture and intellect with man, and sexuality and passivity with women. A change only occurs in the 1990s with artists confusing such conceptions. Traditional art history has suppressed the eroticizing effects of erotic art, although the boundary between art and pornogra- phy continues to be reframed.

KEyWoRdS: sexuality and gender in art, art and pornography, icon- ography of danaë, Titian, Rembrandt, Courbet, Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, Gustav Klimt, Marcantonio Raimondi, Judith Chicago, Matthew Barney, Women’s Movement

Introduction by Leilani Alontaga (Former MSc student in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh) Professor Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat is a Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria. When awarded the Gabriele Possanner State Prize in 2009, she was praised as “A pioneer of feminist art history in Austria who has made an important contribu- tion to giving the area of art history a new, gender-specific role.” Her work can be contextualized within the emerging field of gender studies in art history and in revisionist scholarship concerned with the old mas- ters and Italian Renaissance art. She engages in a lively interrogation of the work of Titian, Rembrandt, and studies of Marcantonio Raimondi’s Modi, and addresses the representation and interpretation of sexual acts, female sexuality, passivity, and masculinity in objects deemed too pornographic to be considered art. Hammer-Tugendhat questions the ways in which female sexuality is constructed and sustained by histori- cal interpretations, and challenges her readers to inquire into the ways gender is constructed using the female body and how that defines the male role in scenes of sexual acts.

In her article “Kunst, Sexualität und Geschlechterkonstruktionen in der abendländischen Kultur” (“Art, Sexuality, and Gender Con- structions in Western Culture”), Hammer-Tugendhat exemplifies her research into gender constructions in Western culture, using a feminist methodology. She explains how sexuality is represented in metaphorical terms in art, and that male sexuality is usually invisible and defined through the female nude. She compares medieval and sixteenth-century representations of sexuality to twentieth-century practice, as seen, for example, in the work of Marcel Duchamp. Hammer-Tugendhat also questions the work of old masters such as Titian, taking his painting of Danaë (1553–4) as one example of a highly sexual scene in which an invisible male sexuality is present in the golden rain—an allusion to male semen—that falls into Danaë’s open thighs.

Art, Sexuality, and Gender Constructions in Western Culture 363

There is a pressing need to question the ways gender is inscribed in the works of the old masters and the ways the female nude is represented in gallery displays. Hammer-Tugendhat argues that purely aesthetic readings offer only a limited understanding of images in which complex metaphors are implemented to convey a specific message, and her article will inspire new readings of how sexuality is constructed. Those studying Italian Renaissance art history or the history of sexuality using a feminist methodology will find this article incredibly useful. It suggests important ways to read the work of the old masters using a feminist methodology.


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