In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews 243 Wolfthal, Diane, Images of Rape: The Heroic Tradition and its Alternatives, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999; cloth; pp. xv, 286; 118 b/w illustrations; R R P A U S $ 1 2 5 ; ISBN 05215831IX. This important scholarly and thoughtfully analytical book, a genuine contrib to knowledge and understanding, is one of the very best which I have reviewed, or indeed read, during the 40 years or so that I have been attached to universities. Wolfthal's exploration into the history of attitudes to rape is based primarily on an examination of images, but her book deserves to be read, and can easily be understood, by all w h o are interested in the culture of medieval and Renaissance Europe. I add that at its price it represents excellent value; libraries, and indeed many private individuals, will have no excuse for not buying it. (There is, incidentally, a paperback version as well.) This study is correctly offered by the publisher as 'thefirstin-depth exploration of rape as it has been portrayed in Western art from the twelfth through seventeenth centuries'. While the author is modest enough to see it as by no means an exhaustive study, her work is sufficiently comprehensive to provide a serious challenge to many simplistic assertions to which w e have had to become accustomed during the last 20 years or so, especially those articulated by scholars who believe that the views of the victim were never represented, and that rape was generally condoned. A good example of this kind of position, to which Wolfthal refers, is an essay by Ellen Rooney, 'Criticism and the Subject of Sexual Violence', in Modern Language Notes 98 (1983), pp. 1269-78, w h o argues that 'resistance [to rape]... goes unread'. Wolfthal retorts: . . . illuminations in the Oldenburg manuscript, the Egerton Genesis, the Spencer codex, and the Bibles Moralisees disprove this hypothesis. They make clear that there was a time, centuries ago, when images cast light on rape and gave voice to its victims; when artists understood that rape was a savage crime involving violent sexual intercourse; and when w o m e n were portrayed energetically resisting rape and avenging their violation. Tragically, modern society has forgotten the existence ofthese visualizations, (p. 198) Just possibly this is a little too extreme in its praise of that time 'centu in its generalisation about 'modem society', but Wolfthal provides excellent and formidable evidence to show that Western societiesfrequentlydid disapprove of rape intimespast, andshethus offers amuch needed corrective to views like Rooney's. 244 Reviews Broadly, Wolfthal distinguishes between the so-called 'heroic' tradition which in various ways endorsed or at least insufficiently condemned rape - and its alternatives. The 'heroic' tradition is often inspired by classicism, and a typical 'Renaissance' phenomenon. As one of several examples of its expression in the visual arts, Wolfthal discusses Nicolas Poussin's Rape of the Sabine Women (c. 1636-37). Like a good, informed critic of Renaissance drama, Wolfthal is well aware that an artistic work ofmerit can - indeed often should - be seen as offering us a range of interpretative possibilities. Nevertheless, and equally rightly, she does not allow that to inhibit her to the extent ofconcluding that w e cannot discover any clear meanings at all. Thus, in the case of this painting, the most immediate effect to strike this viewer is that of small children in the foreground who are obviously shown to be secondary victims of the would-be rapists. However, as Wolfthal explains, one ofthe couples does not show the relationship ofan aggressor and his victim, but that of happy partners, indicating Poussin's view (derived from Plutarch) that the Sabines 'soon accepted their husbands' (p. 9). In contrast with this powerful but repugnant 'heroic' tradition celebrating male violence, there were also others which were more civilised. One of Wolfthal's best points is that we cannot see the development of any of the various traditions, whether opposed to rape or not, as moving in a straight line, or as decisively victorious over others. Thus in the area of the law, for example, depictions of rape became 'less sympathetic to the rape victim in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 243-245
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.