Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine

Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine

Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine

Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine

Synopsis

Wonderfully engaging, this unique study shows how art reveals a misogynistic medical establishment's attitudes toward women. Dixon traces the origins of 'hysteria,' richly illustrating her analysis with more than 100 paintings from the 13th through the 18th centuries, focusing primarily on 17th-century Dutch works.-Publishers Weekly

Excerpt

Seventeenth-century Dutch paintings of ailing women, with titles such as The Doctor's Visit or The Lovesick Maiden, are numerous and, with some variations, remarkably similar. All of them focus on a woman--usually young, pretty, and well dressed--propped up in a chair or languishing in bed (colorpl. 1, fig. 1). In some she has just swooned and lies senseless, the object of frantic efforts to revive her on the part of her maid, her mother, her physician, or all three. Always she is pale and listless; often she stares vacantly with sunken, shadowed eyes or sits in the classic head-on-hand pose of the melancholic. She is usually bundled under several layers of coverlets or is wearing a fur-trimmed jacket colored bright green or blue, or, most often, a warm shade of peach or rose. Her chemise and corset are often unlaced, affording a glimpse of ripe bosom and creamy flesh. Despite her state of dishabille, numerous blankets, fur jackets, charcoal burners, and bed warmers are placed about her, suggesting that she is suffering from a chill and must be kept warm.

Some objects in these paintings are the typical accouterments of a seventeenth-century sickroom: bleeding basins, bottles of medicine, urine flasks, and tall straw containers used to carry urine samples to a doctor's office. Other objects, however, are less obviously medical in purpose, at least in the modern sense. Often the walls of the sickroom are hung with erotic paintings, or a cupid . . .

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