Exhibition explores women of the Bible by artists

Over 500 guests attending the opening reception of "Dangerous Women" on Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Frost Art Museum. Photo by: Elizabeth Soza/PantherNOW

By Stephanie Gambill

In the Holy Bible, both the Old and New Testaments are filled with stories of female characters ranging from the those who serve as examples of virtue to those who are described as wicked seductresses.

Women from Mary Magdalene to Salome all shaped biblical history, and the “Dangerous Women” exhibition at The Frost Art Museum places a spotlight on these women and the depictions of women in renaissance artwork.

“Dangerous Women” showcases more than 20 pieces of artwork and etchings from the Renaissance era that depict women in various forms.

Photo by Elizabeth Soza/PantherNOW

The opening reception took place on Feb. 17 following a panel that was led by the museum’s director, Jordana Pomeroy. Pomeroy led a discussion which included three distinguished scholars in the field: Dr. Kimberly Dennis, a Professor of Art History at Rollins College; Mary Gerrard, a Professor Emerita of Art History at American University; and Guido Ruggiero a Professor of Art History and Chair at the University of Miami.

The panel discussed the portrayals of women in art during the Renaissance era, especially the depictions concerning sexual assault.

The exhibition was organized by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The purpose is to explore the women of the bible and the different roles they played.

When showcasing an exhibition with a focus on Renaissance art, despite the exception of Mickalene Thomas’ “Portrait of Mamma Bush I” (circa 2010), it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that is being shown through the paintings.

“For a historian, it is more interesting how people of the culture in which they lived saw the work of art,” said Ruggiero.

The way someone responds to artwork now presently can vary greatly from the reaction that the same artwork garnered from someone who lived when it was first painted.

As a historian, Ruggiero pays more attention to the opinions of those of that time. Due to the characters being painted are based on biblical characters, it is important to wonder how much the interpretation of a painting can change based on who is looking at it.

Photo by Elizabeth Soza/PantherNOW

“These images were so dangerous that art historians didn’t really talk about what was happening in them, I can remember as a graduate student talking to a curator I was working with on why a painting was labeled as an abduction rather than a rape, and it was because the word didn’t mean the same thing then,” said Ruggiero.

Dennis explains that the images themselves are dangerous, but that now is a good time for people to be viewing this exhibition.

In recent months, news of sexual assault allegations and violence in Hollywood have grown rampant. This fact only shows that despite the paintings being centuries old and the stories they are based on being even older, situations like the ones depicted still occur. And people still have a hard time talking about it.

“They allow us to trace the continuity between these ancient stories whether it’s heroines from ancient rome or heroines from the bible or dangerous women in the bible to present women and how women are vilified if they speak up about things that have happened to them,” said Dennis.

Dennis points out the issues in the way society tends to deal with women who talk about their experiences.

“The idea that some of the art was veiled by claiming it to be a moral story to hide the eroticism was poignant,” said patron and attendee, Anna Schinelle.

The erotic nature of the artwork, despite showing the mistreatment of women in the bible under the facade of sharing a moral story is at the core of, continuing the exploitation of women suffering during a time where their bodies were not considered their own.

“It’s usually behind closed doors, people don’t usually talk about it,” said Danielle Burke, a student at Miami-Dade College.

Burke was impressed with the exhibit for portraying such scenes because they cause a conversation between people.  

“Dangerous Women” will be open at the Frost Art Museum until May 20.

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