Objects of the Museu d’Història de València (MhV)

Mosaic of Medusa

Gender stereotypes: subject of history / allegory

The Gorgon Medusa acted as a model of womanhood in the Greek world. This female being with a terrible visage represents chaos, darkness and evil, as well as cunning and the capacity for deceit. But Medusa is also a representation of motherhood and fertility, for from her severed neck sprang the winged horse Pegasus and the warrior Chrysaor. This ancient image of matriarchy fell under masculine control when it became part of Athena’s armour, as the goddess, being a daughter of Zeus, is a representation of the patriarchy. It is also worth noting Medusa’s association with the underworld and the beyond, given the presence of serpents and her female connection with the forces of nature. Medusa is a demonic figure who inspires terror, while at the same time an amulet against death.

Knife handle in the shape of a female figure

Gender and sexuality

This 14th-century piece, found in the neighbourhood of El Carmen, challenges the imagination with questions regarding its use and the meanings hidden within its iconography. Throughout the 13th century, the story of the young woman it represents, the Châtelaine of Vergy, was sung in the courts of Europe, immortalizing a love that was tragic yet very human in its erotic dimensions. However, in the 16th-century work by Marguerite de Navarre, we find that the story has already been transformed: here the lovers engage in sublimated feelings that scale the heights of platonic love, while the female antagonist has taken on the monstrous characteristics of a femme fatale. These changes have motivated us to propose a collective rereading with the participation of museum visitors, inviting them to reconsider the work’s transformation and reconstruct it, questioning the gender roles and use of language to express emotion in its many aspects.

Corbel with a scene of Phyllis riding Aristotle

Gender and body

Gender and sexuality

The Lai d’Aristote is a fable (amusing and frequently erotic fictional tale told for the purpose of entertainment) attributed to Henri de Valenciennes, whose moral lesson celebrates the absolute power of Eros (love). But a very different rereading soon emerged: Phyllis becomes the wife of Alexander, thus demonstrating the evil of women in general and the sexual desire that leads to the debilitating power of womanhood. The theme was used in medieval and later literature, giving rise to multiple interpretations: evil power of women, insurmountable power of carnal love, weakness of the wise man, conflict between religious and secular values, etc. And from the 14th to the 19th centuries, this theme was widely depicted in art, including choir misericords and architectural statuary, manuscript illuminations, aristocratic tapestries, gold and silverwork, luxury utensils, and particularly engravings.

Dress for the Moma

Gender stereotypes: subject of history / allegory

Gender and clothing

Valencia’s Corpus Christi procession features the Momos, symbols of sin, and in contrast, the Moma, symbol of virtue, responsible for filling the human spirit with divine light. It is odd that the person who dons the gown of the Moma is a man, although he wears a woman’s clothing on the outside. There may be two explanations for this fact. The first is that the dance of the Moma and the Momos follows the pattern of a war dance, in which a struggle is performed, traditionally carried out by men. The second is the limited presence of women, considered sinful beings by the Church, in religious festivities beginning in the medieval period. Their traditional sphere was the home in their role as wife and mother, rather than public occasions.

Raid Valencia-Alicante-Valencia

Gender stereotypes: subject of history / allegory

Gender stereotypes: subject / object

From time immemorial, female depictions, containing varying degrees of fantasy and nudity, have frequently been placed on the front of ships. In keeping with this tradition, the artist positions a woman as the central element of the composition. However, this is a different woman, one associated with the modernity deriving from the 1909 Valencia Regional Exposition (repeated as a national exposition in 1910). She is presented in the context of festivities, joy, novelty, etc. and fully fleshed out, with features that even resemble a portrait. The poster demonstrates the option of another form of public presence and exhibition for Valencian women, which would have to coexist with the traditional mantilla and modesty. It constitutes a step forward in constructing the modern woman of the consumer society, reflected in the graphic works of illustrator Rafael de Penagos (1889–1954).

Poster announcing the Valencia Fair

Gran Feria de Valencia, 1934

Gender and body

Gender stereotypes: subject of history / allegory

Gender stereotypes: subject / object

The female allegory emerged in antiquity to personify civic virtues, designed by men. This inheritance of half-naked ideal women includes the Fatherland, Peace, Justice and others. The absolutist monarchies used the attributes of Athena/Minerva – tunic and cuirass which completely covered her breasts – to represent the nationalities, but also the regions. It was only with the French Revolution that the breast would be freed, creating a Liberty or Republic with the features of the mythical Amazons. This personification, Marianne, also displayed her enormous nurturing breast to suggest the equality of all persons before this new state. In Spain, national and regional allegories were ‘uncovered’ later and with some difficulty. The symbolic Valencian woman of the Fair posters sported her long tunic until 1920, when Vercher undressed her completely. This Deco trend rose with the triumph of republican ideas, blending political ideology with the cult of the healthy athletic body. Her breast remained as perfect and impersonal as those of the first marble statues.

 

Bust of the Second Spanish Republic

Gender and body

Gender and history

Gender stereotypes: subject of history / allegory 

The attributes of Liberty or the Republic were defined in the early years of the French Revolution: the Phrygian cap, the Masonic symbols, the open chiton (attribute of the ancient goddesses of nature) revealing her nurturing breasts. Marianne’s reception in Spain led her attributes to evolve. For example, the representation of the Constitution remained close to that of Hispania, an Athena/Minerva, accompanied by the heraldic lion. It was only after the proclamation of the First Spanish Republic that images combining the Phrygian cap and the symbols of progress with the bare breast became standard. The period which truly revitalized the allegorical image was the Second Republic. Its models included women with modern clothing and individualized faces, as well as daring full nudes. The local government commissioned various sculptures of the Republic in the Deco style, many of them now gone. The rescued bust is an example of the drama of an art of female political allegory, whose understanding was obscured by its destruction.