Tuesday, January 15, 2019

17C Gentlewomen as the Goddess Minerva of War, the Arts, & Wisdom

1600s Simon Vouet (French artist, 1590-1649) Anna of Austria as Minerva with Minerva's symbol of the owl at her feet.

Early artists painted their contemporaries somewhat like allegories, & often painters would put the faces of their patrons or sponsors on the bodies of the saints.  These came to be called donor portraits.  Allegorical portraits remained popular; and as time passed, they expanded to show the sitter as a Greek goddess, or muse, or nymph in in a rustic setting.  These allegories grew to include strong portraits of Minerva wearing idealized attire, nothing like the clothing worn by real women of the period.  Dressing scantily or provocatively would have been frowned upon if a proper lady was sitting for a portrait in contemporary clothing, but if she were posing as an ancient goddess or muse, a little skin was perfectly acceptable.

Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom & sponsor of arts, trade, & war. She was born of Jupiter with weapons. She was fierce, and she was brilliant.  From the 2nd century BC onwards, the Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena. She was the virgin goddess of music, poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, & magic.

A statue of Minerva is displayed by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro University of North Carolina at Greensboro.