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A Respite of Beauty and a Balm for the Fat Soul

Before I move on to the rest of the series concerning food (as outlined in Beloved Fantasy of a Blissful Past) I want to take a small detour. I was overjoyed and inspired to see everyone’s family pictures in the comments to the post, and fate conspired to bring wonderful images of fat people into my life.

See, I had always wanted to go to the Hermitage Museum, but for a variety of circumstances have not been able to do so. This past week I was overjoyed that I was able to see some of the treasures even if I am not in St. Petersburg (Russia)! I happen to be home (Madrid, Spain) spending some time with family. Madrid is one of the world’s great cities, with lots to see and lots to do. One of my favorite spaces is the Prado museum. If you live anywhere near Madrid or if you can take a plane, train or automobile to get there and can find a place to stay, you need to see the exhibition Hermitage at the Prado Museum. Selected works from the Hermitage are being shown for a short time in Madrid. I can honestly say it was the best 12 Euros I have ever spent. I was so very anxious to see this exhibition when I found out it was here, I could not wait to go! I really did not know what to expect as I did not know what works were selected, but when I went there, I saw images that I really needed to see. My soul needed to see them.

I had been thinking all week about how I had grown up and what messages I had received throughout my childhood. For me, as for many of us, being with family brings up memories – very physical memories – of experiences that we ache to forget: thoughtless comments, snide remarks, bullying, and for some even worse. I remembered in my body all my experiences that led to dieting and its predictable sequelae, which I will not belabor as I do not wish to trigger anything for anyone. So… I was under some mental stress the afternoon I went to see the exhibition. I had to wait until the next showing (they only let in a certain number of people at a time). I waited outside, seated in a nice spot of sun poking through the clouds of the off-and-on rain. A busker was playing classical Spanish guitar compositions nearby and the setting brought peace, and I willed myself to live in the moment. It was a perfect respite, and balm for my stress. Soon, I was able to go into the exhibition.

As I passed the first sections featuring explanatory notes on the Hermitage, and saw the first works, I was overjoyed! One of the first pictures is of Catherine II, Empress of all the Russias, painted by Johann Baptist Lampi in 1793. Here is the link to an image of the picture (note – these links are to – please see the pictures on their site):

Catherine II of Russia

I saw a beautiful, strong, intelligent woman who was also fat and was one of the most powerful people in the world at that time. She created the nucleus of what was to become one of the top art collections in the world (1).

One of the paintings in the exhibition which affected me most deeply is by Lorenzo Lotto, painted between 1529 and 1530. It is an image of the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus) pictured resting during their flight to Egypt after the birth. St. Justine is featured also in the work. The work itself is just beautiful, with its use of light and shadow and the folds of the clothing, but look at the image of Mary and that of the Child – they are round, plump, and healthy. If your culture tells you that the Holy Family is the image of all that is good, then you paint them with the attributes of what is good. Clearly, to Lotto fat is good and fat speaks of love. Even if you remove any reference to religion (pretty hard to do because St. Justine has the dagger of her martyrdom in her chest, but one can try) it is still a loving image of a beautiful family.

Rest on the Flight to Egypt with St. Justine

Another favorite was this beautiful painting by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, painted in 1747 – Mercury crowns Philosophy, the Mother of the Arts. The theme of the work goes back to the idea current during the Enlightenment that Reason with the foundation of Philosophy, can build an ideal world. Art was a part of such an ideal world. The symbology of the work is dense, and a great subject for another discussion. Suffice to say that Philosophy, the central female figure who is also fat, holds a scepter which is a symbol of her power over Reason. Philosophy is beautiful, solid, powerful, fat… She is the foundation of a more perfect world. Right there, in a nutshell, the antidote to fat hate. It is the cooling unguent to heal the lashes we receive every day.

Mercury Crowning Philosophy – Mother of the Arts

There are so many others…
The Portrait of a Scholar by Rembrandt from 1631
The Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Glove by Frans Hals (1649)
Picasso’s Seated Woman from 1908 (a powerful expression of womanhood).

We need to see these. We need to seek these out. We need to surround children who are fat with these positive images as part of an all-out effort to protect them from the haters. I fear for their very souls since the crusade against fat people now endangers their mental well-being, their soul, as well as their physical lives. The fat hate which is the destroyer of joy and innocence keeps growing and has insinuated itself into daily life in such a way that there is no longer an escape for a young person growing up today. We are fighting for our lives and, more importantly, we need to fight for children’s lives and their very selves

We need to approach the problem from many perspectives, and I believe providing a different image to counter what is offered by the fat haters is crucial. I do not claim that art appreciation is the solution to the entire problem, but I probably would have had a different outlook on life if someone had shown images like these and explained what I was seeing and their meaning.

What art, of any kind, have you seen lately which offers powerful and positive images of fat people? What images need to be created in order to reach today’s young people in a symbology and medium they understand and accept?


(1) I am sure that those well-versed in Russian politics and social history could take issue with much of what she did or what those who followed her did, but I am staying away from that topic on purpose – this is about her art collection and what it contains that we who are fat need to see.

How to Argue with a Fat Loather | The desire for weight loss is never about weight loss

moxie3's picture
November 25th, 2011 | Link | Since we're sharing favorite

Since we're sharing favorite pictures of Russian artists this is one I came across this year and ordered a copy of. As usual I hope my copy/paste skills have worked, Moxie!

DeeLeigh's picture
November 27th, 2011 | Link | It's not unusual at all to

It's not unusual to see Venus, the Roman goddess of love, depicted as a fat woman (and, as a side note, as very pear shaped - the opposite of the currently fashionable big boobs, no hips look):

Franz Goethe: Venus
Rubans: Venus at her Toilet
Boucher: Triumph of Venus
Titian: Venus in Front of the Mirror

I just love that Batoni painting (Mercury Crowning Philosophy, Mother of the Arts). I'd never seen it before.

Alyssa November 30th, 2011 | Link | Fat Art

Thanks for sharing these links. Catherine II's portrait is gorgeous!

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