Gallery of Personal Portraits - or - what really goes on in us
Sketches from the Woman's life.
you read a biography, are you one of those people who always look at the pictures
first? I have always been fascinated by people, and in recent years have studied
hundreds of women's portraits, looking for their inner story.
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “A good painter essentially needs to paint
two things: the person and their inner state. The former is easy, but the latter
is difficult...” Da Vinci's rich heritage is witness to his mastery in
expressing inner states, whether we look at the Mona Lisa which took him years
to paint, or at sketches he made in the market place.
Imagine if a painter could follow you around from birth to old age, and he
or she were able to capture a multitude of moments which are characteristic
of you: The Girl playing; The Reader; Girl with her best friend; Girl in Anger;
The Woman in Love; The Demanding; The Life Manager; The Wise. Paintings of your
life, paintings of your feelings, paintings of your skills, paintings of your
special qualities. Some types of scenes would occur again and again, others
would be of short one-off moments.
You would end up with a mosaic of paintings depicting a life, and soon it would
be obvious that some pictures belong together, whilst others are very distinctly
different. And yet they are all part of a whole, which keeps unfolding and developing,
new pieces of the mosaic being added each day. And just as many of us keep our
photographs piled up and un-ordered in a cardboard box, so do many of us carry
our mosaic pieces un-ordered in ourselves. They influence us daily, but do we
know what is having an influence on us?
Maybe the following is familiar to you? You look at a photo of yourself, and
you think, “I look awful, my hair looks dreadful, and I have put on weight
again.” Then you look at a photo which was taken ten years ago, to which
you originally had the very same reaction, and you think, “Actually, I
look quite nice in this picture, I don't know why I didn't like it.” And
here we face a difficulty, how can we be objective and not personally involved
when we think about our life and ourselves?
the beginning of this year we sent a questionnaire to all the women who had
been participants in one of our Feminenza workshops or lectures. One subject
that many women marked as one they wanted to explore was, “To develop
as a woman – What does this mean?” Many women long for the opportunity
to develop and to take charge of their own lives. But then immediately a question
arises - what is it that women can and want to develop? Is it improving one's
appearance, furthering one's vocational skills and career, being a better mother,
influencing important issues in the world, or a spiritual development? Are all
women talking about the same development? Is it to do with the spirit of the
age? Is development the same for men and women?
If we want to develop, it is like an expedition. We first need to know where
we are going, and what is needed. Where do we start from? What equipment have
we got? What provisions do we need? Which skills need improving? By analogy,
this calls for bringing an order to the mosaic pieces of your life. If you have
some kind of framework, it helps to order the different pieces of the mosaic,
and to come to an understanding about them. The framework could be a time-line
from birth to old age, but there are also frameworks, which take into account
the different natures and ways of a woman. In our Feminenza studies we have
developed the framework of female, woman and lady. This also involves a certain
time-line, which in the German language you also find in the origin of the words.
According to the Duden etymological dictionary, the German word for female,
“Weib”, is of old Germanic origin and originally meant “to
weave, to bind, to enwrap”. This later became the word “wip”
and then “Weib” in German and “wife” and “weave”
in English. The word for woman, “Frau” was originally derived from
a male word for master. Up to the 17th century it was used to signify the honour
and social standing of a woman. The German word for lady, “Dame”
is of French origin and only entered the German language around 1600, at the
end of the Renaissance period. It stems from the Latin word “domina”,
the lady of the house.
Through the centuries the meanings of the words have changed, and unfortunately
today in the German language “Weib” stands for not being self sufficient,
dependant upon a man, and a bit simple. “Frau” is a word that implies
self-stature and equality, whilst “Dame” implies arrogance and wealth.
Perhaps it is time to refresh these words and give them new meaning.
Tracing the female, woman and lady
|These are two paintings of Lady Hamilton, both painted
by George Rommey, capturing the female and the woman of her.
At birth there is an unlimited possibility of connections between the brain
cells, and only after some time, do paths of connections get established, those
which are used often thicken while the others wither. This is similar to the
first phase in life in which the 'female' forms up. From a multitude of possibilities,
likes and dislikes form up, trends, behavioural patterns, feelings, views of
life and inclinations are established, which mostly stay fixed through life
and also determine our well being.
As mentioned previously, the English word 'weave' and the German word 'Weib'
are of the same origin, and at the level of 'female' all women are connected,
which Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, described in the following way.
”One of the wonderful things about women, which I don't think many social
anthropologists have fully understood, is that we are bonded by shared experiences
- by babies and the rituals and problems of our bodies. Men need gambits to
open conversations with other men. Woman don't, because a sense of camaraderie
and mutual interest already exists between us.”
Painters who highlight the aspect of 'female' in their paintings, often show
several women, or they highlight the body, the back or legs, or a woman grooming
herself, or they catch some kind of playfulness. A beautiful example of this
is the painting 'Women combing her hair' by Edward Degas.
puberty a new aspect gets activated, and now the female has to share the stage
of life with a new partner, as the 'woman' awakens. The life of the woman includes
many years of responsibility and service: service to the family, the job, men...
but also the fight for equal rights, perfect management of her affairs, and
a constant broadening of her horizon and her skills. Helena Rubinstein said
of herself: “I believe in hard work. It keeps the wrinkles out of the
mind and the spirit. It helps to keep a woman young.” And Dame Nellie
Melba, a famous Australian opera singer, said at the beginning of the 20th century:
“If I'd been a housemaid, I'd have been the best in Australia. I couldn't
help it. It's got to be perfection for me.” Does this sound like stress?
Admittedly the woman in us is a bit stress prone, but she is also very capable,
enduring and innovative, whilst the female in us wants her time to deal with
things, and preferably one thing at a time.
There are potentially many grounds for friction between the female, longing
for harmony and recognition, and the bossy always-busy woman. Fortunately we
gather some useful experience as we go through life, and hopefully a good portion
of wisdom gets added as well, and from this forms the “lady”. Maybe
it is not surprising that, if all goes well, after menopause the lady takes
the biggest part in us. This is the good news, and wouldn't it be great if all
women during or after menopause knew this? The bad news is that whilst it's
guaranteed that the female and woman form up, the lady is not guaranteed; it
takes experience, quality and wisdom for her to form up in us.
said about Laura Wheeler Waring, a black artist, who was born in the late 19th
century: “She captures the essence of the person she portrays.”
It is said that she set new “standards of dignity” in portrait painting.
It is the lady who has a feeling for this.
Paintings that show the 'woman' aspect, often present a woman who is industrious,
her hands and face pronounced, or a woman with self confidence and who radiates
capability. In portraits of the lady aspect, there is a sense of a presence
about them, and a feeling that this would be someone you would approach for
some wise counsel.
Finally, there is the saying of a lady, Helen Keller, a courageous woman, who
was blind and deaf after a childhood illness, and who won international recognition
for her work and for her deep humanity: “Character cannot be developed
in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul
be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Sabine Delderfield, Germany