We fulfill in this blog of Madrid Museum Tours what we promised in our previous one. We are going to share with you reflections on works of Ignacio Zuloaga, Joaquín Sorolla and Julio Romero de Torres. It will help us to analyze the situation of women at that time. And also to pay tribute to Sofia Kovalévskaya, Emilia Pardo Bazán and Clotilde García del Castillo.
Let’s start with what happened in Madrid, on February 22, 1911. 2 courageous women walked down Carretas Street dressed in skirt pants. An outfit that María Antonieta had worn for the first time more than 130 years before. Yet, a fevered mob besieged the women. They took shelter in a store, waiting for the forces of law and order to rescue them.
For the ignorant and the bellicose mass of Madrid at the beginning of the century, women had to be at home. Their duty was to take care of household chores and offspring. It was unimaginable that they read books. Secondary education for women was fraught with obstacles. Their access to university was inconceivable. The practice of sport, forbidden.
But, the most serious problem was that women suffered three types of violence. Physical, sexual and moral. Worse still, violence against women had a structural character. It was considered something normal and undervalued by society and the law. Women were not only subordinated to men for legal or commercial operations. In cases of rape or adultery, she was the culprit, never the male.
Such a social environment makes understandable that the attempt of those two “immoral women” to walk wearing skirt pants failed.
In 1911 Ignacio Zuloaga finished his Bleeding Christ. Currently on display at the Museo Reina Sofía Madrid. This painting is an insurmountable illustration of the tragedy which was to be a woman at that time.
May Zuloaga forgives me for interpreting it in my way.
I see in this gloomy picture a woman crucified in the middle of 6 static persons. On her right, a priest tilts his head down. A red Nazarene, who holds a candle in his left hand, also lowers his head. And, between the two, kneels a penitent with closed eyes.
Left side of the crucified woman. On a mound stands the executioner. He does not look either. Aside the executioner, a contrite-faced Nazarene, whose gaze directs towards the victim. And, at the same height as her, another hard-faced Nazarene is staring at us.
The landscape is gray and the turbulent sky is painted by Zuloaga in the style of El Greco. In the background, Avila, the walled city, birthplace of Santa Teresa. Teresa of Avila dared to denounce, 351 years before 1911, the relations between men and women. Especially, between women and their male judges. For this, and more things, the holy Spanish Inquisition persecuted her.
Looking at the Bleeding Christ of Zuloaga it is inevitable to think that almost nothing had changed for the women during the lapse of time between Saint Teresa and Ignacio Zuloaga… 351 years!
Ignacio Zuloaga’s technique reveals a good academic apprenticeship. In his brush-stroke, we distinguish the footprint of Greco, Ribera, Velázquez and late Goya. He chose Castilian landscapes as background of his sullen characters of stoic existence. Bleeding Christ shows the shame and pain of its male protagonists. It is also a crude testimony of resignation to things that will remain the same.
In February 1911, Emilia Pardo Bazán was 7 months away from her 60th birthday and would soon publish ‘Sweet Dreams’, her latest novel.
Emilia Pardo Bazán was an extraordinary woman. She became the first female university professor in Spain (1916). Novelist, storyteller, poet, chronicler, historian, lecturer, advisor, editor. Plus an indomitable vindicator of women’s equal rights.
Supported by her encyclopedic culture and narrative talent, she expressed her convictions. Ideas that outraged most of his male colleagues and social institutions. She defined all the barriers suffered by women who aspired to have an education. An unreachable dream for a woman. To get a full education from primary education to the University. ‘’All advantages for men, all obstacles for women”.
Obstacles that bent sooner or later to the step of Dona Emilia. She was a member of the Ateneo first and president of the department of literature later. Counselor of Public Instruction. Member of the Madrid Economic Society of Friends of the Country.
The essence of her feminist postulate was that men and women are equal in all fields. Areas such as the ability to educate oneself, to learn, to work, to teach and be the owner of one’s sexual will.
Doña Emilia had neither the appearance of a mata-hari nor she did behave as such. She had a chubby body and voluminous double chin. According to famous writer Leopoldo Arias, Pardo Bazan was” an intruder who worked as a man in a masculine world.”
To make things worse, she dared to write about feminine sexuality.
Doña Emilia Pardo Bazan’s life ran parallel to her writings. She had a long love affair with Benito Perez Galdos. Emilia was the strong one in that relationship. Being the owner of her sexuality did not exempt her from committing infidelities. She called those infidelities ‘mistakes’ Mistakes that lacerated Galdos’ heart and damaged his fame as an invincible womanizer.
Many men discovered their weakness after falling in love with female manipulators. Women who subjugate men using cruel coquetry.
Dona Emilia did not need to resort to such feminine wiles.
In love matters, she was the chief.
Also a chief is the lady of ‘Reading ”. Painted by Julio Romero de Torres between 1901 and 1902. Displayed at the Reina Sofía Art Centre.
This painting is the antonym of the Bleeding Christ. The protagonist of ”Reading” is the prototype of that ideal of woman profiled by Emilia Pardo Bazan.
She lies on her bed in a reflective attitude. Her hypnotic gaze pierces us. An open book rests on the green cushion where the lady right arm also rests. The glazes on her tight-fitting dress suggest an anatomy of sensual curves. The fact that she didn’t shed her shoes indicates that she was in a hurry to lie down in bed and start reading.
But it was time to pause and reflect on the content of the book.
And this is the master snapshot that Romero de Torres captures. He draws her outline with that long, firm line that his father instilled in him. Except for the bedspread, the whole painting is green, in different shades. The background shows the influence of the bluish green of Velazquez’s Crucified Christ. A dark green covers the bedside table. Light green is the lampshade and the same light green spreads on the reader’s dress. The attractive face of the protagonist, her stylized arms are of a tenuous green. A different color from the yellowish green of the pages of the open book.
A marvelous fusion of character and environment by means of the green color, in many textures. The icing on the cake is the orange – red quilt, full of passionate symbolism, that contrasts with all green textures.
”Reading” does not present that type of weak and ignorant woman, busy in her housework. I believe that the painting depicts the intimacy of a young girl who might be reading Concepcion Arenal’s essay ”Woman on the Rise”. Her posture denotes a soft character, but of iron convictions. She is not a fragile dreamer. Her strength lies in her intelligence, education, beauty and determination to overcome obstacles.
Romero de Torres may have pointed out with ”Reading” the path that young women should follow to break the rules of an oppressive society.
The first female university professor in history, Sofia Kovalevskaya, reached the highest personal achievement a woman could dream about.
One month after the skirtpant altered public order in Madrid, a similar thing happened in Saint Petersburg. The staff of a theatre prevented some ”provocative ladies”, who wore such an attire, to enter the place. The plague of ”harem clothing”, was on the way to threaten the foundations of the society.
20 years and 1 day before the scandal of those 2 ladies in skirtpant, in Stockholm, Sofia Kovalévskaya passed away. She was of aristocratic extraction. Like her contemporary Pardo Bazan.
Sofia was able to emigrate from Russia thanks a ”fictitious marriage”. Already in Germany, she had not forgotten her fellow women. Kovalevskaya’s had a total commitment to help Russian women to study abroad. Something impossible in 19th century Russia. Guided by her nihilistic ideas, she passed to action. Inspired by the Fritsche Commune of Zurich, she founded the Heidelberg Women’s Commune. This nihilistic association supported female compatriots to escape from Russia. Sofia’s nihilistic activism for the liberation of women surpassed Emilia Pardo Bazan defense of the oppressed woman.
Kovalevskaya’s biography is about her tireless struggle to get a college education. And to practice math. And to teach her favorite subject at the university.
3 forbidden aspirations, in principle, because of her status as a woman.
Kovalevskaya became :
1º the first female university professor in history.
2ºthe first female mathematician in Russia.
3º the first woman who graduated in philosophy at the University of Göttingen (Germany).
Sofia Kovalévskaya wrote 2 novels denouncing the patriarchal, feudal and autocratic society of her country.
Sofia suffered constant humiliation from the miserable academic environment. She got rejected as a professor in France and Germany. It did not matter that she had a doctorate at the age of 24 . Her thesis was three times longer than the ordinary ones.
Finally, in 1889, the Swedish Academy validated Sofia’s contributions to the exact sciences. It granted her the position of professor, for life. at the Faculty of Mathematics at Stockholm University.
In 1891 she fell ill with pneumonia on her way back from a frustrating trip to St. Petersburg. There, she was not admitted to the ceremony of the University’s Mathematical Academy. Despite the enormous recognition she enjoyed in the international scientific community
She died in Stockholm at the early age of 41.
No Russian, German, or Swedish artist ever portrayed her.
Clotilde García del Castillo has been one of the most portrayed women in history.
By her own husband.
She was Joaquín Sorolla wife. Also his muse, accountant, administrator and dealer. In her husband’s words, “my flesh, my life and my brain”.
Clotilde was the love that strengthened Sorolla. And the longing that weakened him during his frequent absences from home.
Clotilde Garcia del Castillo was the incarnation of “that great woman who is always behind a great man”. In other words, she had nothing in common with that lazy, ignorant and narrow minded middle-class woman reproached by Emilia Pardo Bazan.
Clotilde had the greatness to grant to the art of painting the first place in the order of life of her husband. Her humility, when she referred to her physical appearance, contrasted with the spiritual and physical beauty she radiated in all the portraits her husband made of her.
Clotilde as a mother, helping with homework, sewing, in the garden, on the beach, reading a book or newspaper …
Clotilde nude, ordering some pieces of ceramics of Manises .
As time went by, Sorolla’s brush never stopped to paint beloved Clotilde. Inalterably beautiful, in spite of the years.
When Clotilde was 45 years old, Sorolla finished the best portrait of her: Clotilde sitting on a sofa.
This marvelous portrait shows mutual tenderness, affection and complicity. Between the muse and the painter. Kind of mature love that a matrimony reach after 22 years of marriage.
Clotilde sits relaxed on a sofa. She crosses her hands in a slight gesture of patience and docility. Her gaze sends a direct message to Sorolla. Only he can fully understand it.
Clotilde’s lips outline a slight smile.
Sorolla’s famous luminous white color shines in Clotilde’s dress. Her skin is pink. Like the pink used by Velázquez, Goya, Fortuny, Rosales and, of course, Sorolla.
Clotilde‘s curly hair stands out in her youthful hairstyle. Yellow, green and sky-blue colors scatter on the sofa. Background and floor are if burgundy red.
Sorolla paints Clotilde with his loose, diagonal brush-stroke which enchanted his admirers. ( And made Valle Inclan sick. In fact, Joaquin Sorolla awakened in life strong passions and furious criticisms. )
Sorolla would have painted Clotilde standing. Dressed up in one of his elegant double breasted suits. Clotilde, affectionately crosses her legs in the direction of her husband. Her feet sheathed in satin shoes. The day’s posing session is almost over. Soon will Clotilde shed the white dress that Sorolla bought her especially for this portrait. She will take off her satin shoes and immerse herself in her husband’s warm arms. The fingers of the clock will stop during the embrace of these two eternal lovers.
Sofia Kovalévskaya, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Clotilde García del Castillo had a common denominator.
The first two, distinguished feminist fighters. The third one, a mother and housewife, constrained to play the role that society had assigned to women.
Without Professor Carl Weirstrass mediation, Sofia Kovalévskaya, would have not been appointed professor at Stockholm University.
Without the long and loyal relationship with Benito Pérez Galdós, dona Emilia would have been unable to please her explosive sexual voracity and tireless literary imagination.
Without Sorolla and Clotilde, it would be hard for us to find such a perfect model of love between artist and wife.
Zuloaga, Sorolla and Romero de Torres represented in isolated works of undeniable sociological value, 3 vertices of the feminine condition between the 19th and 20th centuries: the victim, the new woman and the ideal wife.
A topic for a future blog will be how artists like Rosler, Piper, Wilson, Denes and others, focus 21st century feminism.
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