WGST-250-01 The Breast: Image, Myth, and Legend
Fall for 2013-2014
Feminist historian Marilyn Yalom once wrote that “In the beginning was the breast.” Sacred, sensual, sexual, political, and societal, the female breast has been transformed through image, myth, and legend to render multiple meanings from nurture and sustenance to enslaving obsession and civic virtue. The symbolism of the female breast has traversed and been formed by religious, political, and social ideas all of which have been depicted in the arts. Understanding the visual arts as primary evidence in the study of history and reflective of societal perceptions of sexuality and gender, this chronological survey of the breast in Western art and culture reveals the potential lightning rods and miscues in how our 21st-century eyes interpret history and meaning especially with regards to women and gender. Beginning with the Paleolithic mother goddesses whose large breasts signified fertility and lactation, we will examine the multiple meanings in the historical transformations of the image of the female breast from the Christian symbolism of the Maria Lactans (Nursing Mother) to the Renaissance exaltation of female sensuality and the Enlightenment tradition of the republic as woman and political symbol of liberty to the voyeuristic obsessions of 20th-century advertising and entertainment.
Core readings will include:
John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972)
Marilyn Yalom, A History of the Breast (1997).
Margaret R. Miles, A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast, 1350-1750 (2008).
Carolyn Latteier, Breasts: the women’s perspective on an American obsession (1998).
Secondary readings will include varied (academic and non-academic) journal articles, art exhibition entries/references, and biblical, theological, and literary excerpts.
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