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Monuments and Maidens, Marina Warner

Subtitle: _The Allegory of the Female Form_. 1985. Seems really thick but that's paper thickness, about 300 pages.

A book I'm reading, found randomly in the art section. I don't know if I'll finish, it's interesting without being gripping. Basically it's about the use of female form in art, particularly as abstract allegorical figures. Lady Liberty, France, La Republique, the Muses, the Virtues, Britannia, etc. Warner notes that not showing women at all in public isn't a good sign, but covering your buildings in scantily clad abstract women isn't a sign of liberation either. Ancient Athens was viciously misogynist, despite having Athena as patron goddess. Paris is covered in ladies and France was one of the later countries to give women the vote. Lady Liberty doesn't mean women are particularly free.

Male statues show actual male individuals; female statues tend to be abstracted. Lincoln Memorial vs. Lady Liberty. No Uncle Sam statue, eh? And as images, John Bull and Uncle Sam have more personality than Britannia or Liberty or France.

First chapter is about the Statue of Liberty. Second is about Paris and all its female figures. Third is about Britannia (ironically, originally a Roman conceit, used to depict the subjection of Britain), with a lot about depictions of Margaret Thatcher. (A "masculine" woman, yet never seen in trousers, and with strong public images as mother, wife, and housewife, i.e. minimally threatening. But not object of desire, that probably would have been politically fatal.)

My vocabulary hasn't had this much of a workout in a while. Entirely new words to look up: quadriga, galantine, riggish, ambulatory as a noun (that was trivial to guess on my own, but still novel). Probably seen before: pollarded. I figured I should look up tympanum (architectural) and pediment as well, as they fell into "I feel like I know them but can't actually define them." Pediment really isn't what I'd think it sounds like.

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Damien Sullivan

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