Monday, January 31, 2011

Beauty in the eye of the beholder?

I've had the most fun this morning. Exploring, hunting, learning - THIS is what the internet was meant for, isn't it? I started at Albert's Window, where the portrait to the left caught my eye. AND - I had a little moment of Déjà vu. Something about that painting was so familiar. Now, why would such a bizarre piece of art be familiar to me? I thought I'd keep exploring. The letter which Antonietta Gonzalez the subject of the portrait is holding says,

"Don Pietro, a wild man discovered in the Canary Islands, was conveyed to his most serene highness Henry the king of France, and from there came to his Excellency the Duke of Parma. From whom [came] I, Antonietta, and now I can be found nearby at the court of the Lady Isabella Pallavicina, the honorable Marchesa of Soragna."
Now I detoured to Wikipedia, to read about hypertrichosis, also known as "werewolf syndrome." There, I learned that Antoinetta's father, Petrus Gonzales, has gone down in history as the first recorded case of hypertrichosis. There are more recent people who are afflicted with hypertrichosis, but they unfortunately are ostracized, or treated as freaks of nature and put on show in traveling carnivals. This was not the fate of Petrus Gonzales and his children. In Failure Magazine, Merry Wiesner-Hanks, author of “The Marvelous Hairy Girls”, states that,
"They lived at court and Petrus and his sons were given minor positions, Petrus being an assistant bearer of the king’s bread. The Gonzales family was at court because of their hairiness, in a situation similar to that of court dwarves. They were not exactly free to come and go as they pleased, but they were not slaves. Their noble patrons dressed them in luxurious clothing."
In reading an article which Merry Wiesner-Hanks wrote for National Sexuality Resource Center (NSRC), I was thrilled to see that the portrait of Antonietta Gonzales now hangs in the castle of Blois in France. Then, I had that "Aha moment." See, I've visited Blois! In 2006, we made a trip to France to visit some of the Chateaux of the Loire Valley. I had visited the Chateaux of Blois and had seen that painting before! It just took me about four and a half years to learn its history. I'm so glad that I did! (click for larger) Portrait of Antonietta Gonzales, by Lavinia Fontana

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