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All the Single Ladies

According to Beyoncé, Girls run the world! Known for her powerful lyrics many of the singer's hit songs are filled with female empowerment, reminding listeners that women are self-reliant, ambitious, assertive, and, well, just plain strong. Blast a little Sasha Fierce aka Beyoncé on your playlist (head phones on, it is a museum after all) as you walk through our galleries and take a fresh glance at some influential women right here at The Ringling. 

Peter Paul Rubens The Defenders of the Eucharist, ca. 1625Isabella Clara Eugenia was a Spanish princess, who became the governor of the Southern Netherlands in the 1620s. In The Defenders of the Eucharist, the artist, Peter Paul Rubens, placed Isabella triumphantly at the center of the painting holding in her capable hands the golden receptacle, which held the Eucharist. In a world dominated by men, religious strife, and political unrest, Isabella fought to maintain peace.  

Song: “Run the World? Girls!”: My persuasion can build a nation, endless power, the love we can devour, you’ll do anything for me. 

Peter Paul Rubens, The Defenders of the Eucharist, ca. 1625

Fede Galizia Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1596

According to the Old Testament, Judith was a daring Israelite widow who saved her people by seducing and beheading the enemy general Holofernes. The grisly, but heroic, biblical act was carried out by this young and brave heroine. This painting was also completed by a woman, Fede Galizia, who signed her name on the blade of Judith’s dagger. Galizia painted Judith dressed in splendid attire recalling the biblical text, in which she put aside her widow’s clothes and dressed herself in a way that would inspire Holoferenes’ lust. Galizia also paints Judith serving the severed head on a platter, commenting on a woman’s place in society and the traditional female assignment of serving food. 

Song: “Freakum Dress”: Cause when he acts wrong, that’s when you put it on, Been on him up tight, this is your song. Hold out your back, time to impress, pull out your freakum dress. 

Fede Galizia, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1596

Noel-Nicolas Coypel Portrait of Madame de Bourbon-Conti as Venus, 1731

Louise-Elisabeth de Bourbon was a Princess of Conti, who was forced to wed her first cousin at the young age of nineteen. He was ugly and ill-mannered while she was charming, flirtatious, beautiful, and eventually unfaithful. At the time this portrait was made she was thirty-eight years old and a happy widow attending the court of her cousin, the King, at Versailles. The artist, Noel-Nicolas Coypel, painted Louise-Elisabeth as Venus, the goddess of love. He transformed the worldly wise aristocrat into an idealized confection of courtly beauty.

Song: “Diva”: I know you read the paper, the one that they call a queen, every radio round the world know me. I’m a Diva hey. Diva is a female version of a hustler. 

Noel-Nicolas Coypel,Portrait of Madame de Bourbon-Conti as Venus, 1731

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo An Allegory Representing the Glory and Magnanimity of Princes, ca. 1760In Tiepolo’s fresco, An Allegory Representing the Glory and Magnanimity of Princes the haughty woman leaning on the scepter represents magnanimity, which means greatness of mind and heart. Tiepolo often painted fictive sculptures into his monumental schemes and these figures are meant to look like life sized bronze statues. This female personification of greatness of soul, appears arrogant and even conceited due to her loftiness of thought and purpose. Her strong features represent the glories that come with magnanimity. 

Song: “Ego”: Some call it arrogant, I call it confident. You decide when you find out what I’m working with.

Alfred Stevens A Portrait Group of Parisian Celebrities, 1889

In the panorama painting A Portrait Group of Parisian Celebrities by Alfred Stevens features portraits of famous men and women who lived between 1789 and 1889. The Ringling’s portion shows prominent dramatists, writers, and musicians, but its real star is Steven’s adored friend, the famed actress Sarah Bernhardt who is dressed in the costume she wore when she played the Queen in Victor Hugo’s Ruy Blas.  Sarah, who was a French stage and early film actress was often called the most famous actress ever known. Although Sarah’s personal life was filled with romance and a bit of scandal, she became illustrious for her controversial roles, such as when she played the normally male title role of Hamlet, in a prose adaptation which she had commissioned. 

Song: “If I Were a Boy”: If I were a boy, even just for a day I’d roll outta bed in the morning and throw on what I wanted and go. Drink beer with the guys and chase after girls. I’d kick it with who I wanted and never get confronted for it. 

Alfred Stevens, A Portrait Group of Parisian Celebrities, 1889

Robert Henri Salome, 1909In the scandalize Richard Strauss Opera Salome, based on Oscar Wilde’s play, Salome was transformed from an innocent young girl to a grown and dangerously sensual woman. Robert Henri, invited Mademoiselle Voclezca to perform the notorious Dance of the Seven Veils in his studio and painted her as a temptress; her face is flushed, her lips are parted and her back is arched. Henri’s brushwork suggests the tempting rhythms of the erotic dance.

Song: “7/11”: Shoulders sideways, smack it, smack it in the air. Legs movin’ side to side, smack it in the air. 

Robert Henri,  Salome, 1909

Although the artistic world was once dominated by men, women have fought to retain important positions in the arts for centuries and not just as muses, but as artists, critics, curators, and dealers in their own right. Women have attempted to fight stereotypes and develop a strong representation in the art world. As you walk through The Ringling estate it is obvious that women have a permanent and leading role here, just ask Mable Ringling.

Song: “Flawless”: I took some time to live my life, But don’t think I’m just his little wife. Don’t get twisted, get it twisted.