THE PAINTED WITCH by Edwin Mullins
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An original study of man's anxieties and hostilities toward woman as seen in great paintings of Western art--by Munch, Rembrandt, Tiepolo, Toulouse-Lautrec, Titian, Rubens, Goya, Giorgione, Picasso and others. Did these painters unconsciously fear their female subjects and disguise them as virgins, man-eaters, sinners, mistresses, clothes-pegs, beloved lepers, mothers and heroines? Are all these Venuses only manageable stereotypes, in fact misogynous images for helping painters remain dominant over their deepest sexual fears?"" The evidence of art, ""he writes,"" is that nothing in the world has held men's passions and longings in such thrall as women: neither money, nor goods, nor gods, nor friendship, nor conquest, nor kingdoms."" But, says Germaine Greer, stingingly, ""Women have very little idea of how much men hate them."" First, Mullins tours London's National Gallery, plowing through miles of Madonnas, to the more sensual Poussin, the distant lust of a Tiepolo Venus, until arriving at the French ""objects of play, either dolled up by Lancret to chatter in gardens, or undressed by Boucher and Fragonard to show off their pink bottoms and their lemon-sorbet breasts surmounted with glac‚ cherries. Precursors, all of them, to Renoir's sweetie-pies looking pretty in boats: women as the adornments of a man's world, offering him ease, delight, confirmation of his maleness, and a little sauce.""Is Greer right? No, Hogarth's grinning, affectionate The Shrimp Girl saves him for a moment, then Goya's passionately sexy dishes who proclaim themselves their own mistresses and ""demand to be treated as men's equal. . ."" And then come Rembrandt's two beloved models, his wife Saskia and, as a widower, his mistress Henrickje, both of whom are quite plain but rendered with enormous affection and deep personal happiness, even when Hendrickje is not smiling. Later, Mullins reaches a high point in his interpretation of Rembrandt's Potiphar's Wife Accusing Joseph (she has been spurned by Joseph, who does not want to betray his master's trust): ""A full glare of light falls on this impassioned figure. . . Her face is one of ravaged beauty; under a thunderous frown her hooded eyes blaze into the dark as if searching for some object worthy to be melted by them. She is a woman caged and desperate. She is magnificent: her passions are worth twenty of the feeble heartbeats of the two men on either side of her. . ."" Brilliantly plain-spoken, engaged, moving; a triumph over art-history jargon.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1985
Publisher: Carroll & Graf