Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Heh. After my post on the death of Orpheus last week, Danielle said he prefered to see more of the Maenads who killed him.
Arthur Wardle (1864-1949): The Bacchante
The Maenads (or Bacchantes) of legend were human women who worshipped Dionysus (later known as Bacchus). Their name means "the raving ones." Basically they were the nightmare vision of femininity as the classical Greeks saw it: what happens if you let women out from under proper patriarchal control. They'd roam the hills in packs, dancing, drunk on wine - the gift of Dionysus - and in a state of religious frenzy, killing any animal they came across and eating their raw flesh. Sometimes they preyed on men and children too. Wildly promiscuous, they constorted in orgies with satyrs - because human men just couldn't keep up.
So ... drunk, horny and violent - what Victorian artist could resist, you'd think?
Auguste Léveque (1864-1921): Bacchanalia
Actually, if you go looking for Bacchantes in art, you'll find that most of the wild orgy scenes are painted in earlier, less prudish eras. The bacchanale seems to have been just a bit too full-on the for Victorian audience. Offensively unfeminine, I suspect. Not nice enough. Maenads certainly exist in Victorian art, but they tend to be depicted with a quite inappropriate delicacy:
John Collier (1850-1934): The Priestess of Bacchus
Um, very dignified....
Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912): Bacchanale
Less dignified, but only because of the skipping...
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905): A Bacchante
Oh, come off it! - this one looks like she's sipping tea with the vicar!
Lawrence Alma-Tadema : A Dedication to Bacchus
Okay, better. It's still a bit staid, but it's an awesome picture, one of Alma-Tadema's greatest. Go on - click to enlarge in all its glorious detail.
Where Victorian artists do tend to concentrate is on the aftermath of the Maenads' frenzy - exhausted women having a nice lie down and maybe a grape or two. It's a lot less threatening to the viewer.
Paul Merwart (1855-1902): Bacchante with Grapes
Jean-Bapstiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) : Bacchante with a Panther
Henrietta Rae (1859-1928) : A Bacchante
Enough with the grapes!
Lawrence Alma-Tadema: The Women of Amphissa
Another beautiful picture from LA-T: a group of maenads wake up with a belting hangover and the women of the town where they've collapsed - having watched over them all night - bring them breakfast. It's rather sweet actually.
I'm finishing with a photograph from a theatrical show, Euripides' Bacchae. It's well out of the Victorian/Edwardian era but I think it captures the true spirit of the Maenads. And it's not at all sweet or staid.
Max Waldman: Dionysus in 69