REFLECTION 5: The Apparition

12 Jun

The Apparition

I looked at Gustave Moreau’s The Apparition. It is a watercolor and hangs at the Musee D’Orsay. However, I thought I saw this painting at the Moreau museum. It was possibly an earlier sketch or a different version.  In learning The Apparition, I was introduced to the myth of Salome and the femme fatale. While I’m familiar with the image of a powerful female seductress, I didn’t realize that this image was rooted in the biological aspects of STD’s, which can be transmitted through female sexuality. This doesn’t justify the sexist ideologies that followed, but it makes it somewhat more understandable. This also parallels the junk science that justified racism by “proving” African-Americans to be more “primitive” and the incorrect assumptions of associating HIV with homosexuality. I then began to wonder what Moreau’s stance on these topics would be. Without researching the topic, I analyzed the painting. While Salome has been called “evil” her white skin makes her look innocent against a brown background. The head of John the Baptist appears before her. The head seems to be radiating divine light, but Salome doesn’t appear to wither from it as a devil with holy water. Instead, she seems curious. I would like to think that Moreau does not blame Salome for the murder because she appears innocent. If this is the case, I would like to see his depiction of Salome’s mother. After a little basic research on Salome, I was unfortunately unsurprised by the absence of interpretation that blame Herod.  Instead, Salome becomes more and more deceptive as time goes on and Oscar Wilde’s play doesn’t even include her mother. The angry feminist in me came out and I started thinking of the Guerrilla Girls art at the Tate Modern in London. 

Turning my cynicism toward optimism, I’m excited to the future where (hopefully) we begin to see more female voices and therefore new perspectives on even ancient myths. Until then, I picked one author, John Keats, who used the femme fatale to show the power of women and romanticism. Thus, instead of writing 10 pages on the myth of the femme fatale, I wrote an essay on his three narrative poems Lamia, Isabella, and the Eve of St. Agnes.

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2 Responses to “REFLECTION 5: The Apparition”

  1. cécile July 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    I like that little poster on naked women in the museums 😉
    However, beware of some shortcuts associating Salome and STDs!
    Rather, it’s the association between women and temptations that leads to the idea that women are potentially dangerous. For example, the first temptress is Eve, of course, then come other females such as Lilith, Dalila, but then again the sorceress, Fata Morgana etc…
    And later in the 19th century, the idea that the woman (the prostitute especially) is the reason why men can be sick (syphilis). So be careful not to forget some steps in the development of your thoughts.
    The question of Salome’s mother is in fact important, as well as the question of Herod’s responsibility. In fact, Salome is under influence, she’s almost innocent because she’s a very young woman, maybe barely aware of the impact of this beauty. In Moreau’s paintings (and you’re right to notice that there are many versions of that same theme) she seems innocent, and this emphasizes her seduction even more. The purity and divinity of St. John is also in the forefront.

  2. umber February 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Wilde does include Salome’s mother Herodias, in fact I read Wilde’s Salome as very Feminist- Herod is stupid and powerless to Salome and Herodias. Salome holds all the power, but is arguably destroyed by her infatuation with John the Baptist who is the only man to reject her sexually.

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