Objects of the Museu de Belles Arts de València

Altarpiece of St Martin, St Ursula and St Anthony

Gender stereotypes

In medieval Valencia, it was common for financially well-off families with social status to have funerary chapels, for which they commissioned altarpieces and other works of art. These were intended not only to honour and perform ceremonies in memory of their ancestors, but also so that their descendants would acquire noble rank.

The altarpieces were dedicated to the namesake of the chapel, who was usually the patron saint of the person commissioning the work, having been born on their name day (feast day of the saint). In this case, it is dedicated to St Martin and St Ursula, who according to legend, was martyred accompanied by eleven thousand virgins. The popularity of legends about virgin martyrs gives an indication of the feminine ideals of the time.


Penitent Magdalene

Gender stereotypes

The religious painting developed during the 17th century served as a vehicle for promoting piety and repentance among the faithful. The naturalistic tone and models taken from reality sought to make holy figures more closely resemble those with whom the faithful could identify.

One of the subjects most often depicted is that of the penitent Mary Magdalene, because she embodies the possibility of redemption through repentance. This image of the saint as a repentant sinner is a development which emerged from the combination of different figures. It served as a model for those mortals who, even if they sinned repeatedly, could harbour the hope of salvation through repentance.


Achilles among the Daughters of Lycomedes

Gender and clothing

This piece depicts one of the best known cases of a person of one gender dressing and performing the role and attributes corresponding to the opposite gender: Achilles, who is dressed as a woman and hidden by his mother to prevent him from taking part in the Trojan War.

The fact of using clothing to adopt an image which society identifies with the opposite gender does not affect the identity or the sexual orientation of the person wearing it. Achilles is presented as a man, a warrior, although in this case he is dressed and behaves like a woman, which ensures that he will not participate in an activity deemed exclusive to the male gender: war.

The Halberdiers José Díaz and Francisco Torán

Gender identity

Gender and sexuality

It is not common to find a double portrait of two male figures, such as this one of the halberdiers José Díaz and Francisco Torán. The fact that they are portrayed together is probably due to the fact that they were the only two Valencians who formed part of the Royal Corps of Halberdiers on the night of the kidnap attempt against the child queen Isabella II. The Valencia Provincial Council commissioned this portrait to commemorate their courageous action.

They are depicted in the bourgeois fashion, one seated and the other standing. They clasp hands, probably to symbolize the friendship and loyalty which united them. An intimate gesture far removed from rigid military protocol which at some points may have been ambiguous. Fortunately, today virility and valour need not go hand in hand.


Portrait of Don Francisco Ignacio Montserrat and His Wife Doña Dolores Caldés

Gender and clothing

Gender and social class

In the 19th century, portraiture developed considerably, making it an important source of information about the society of the period. The character of the subjects is reflected in their faces, their pose, the clothing they wore and even their jewellery, indicating what role each of the persons portrayed was meant to represent.

The Montserrats had their portraits painted at two different points in their life. The first is as a young couple in a portrait with a certain familiar intimacy. The second is in two majestic portraits, in which Francisco wears a uniform with decorations that refer to his military exploits, while Dolores is shown in an evening dress, symbol of the status and financial position achieved by the husband.