Visualisation of Gender


  Iconographic sources were, until recently, considered by historiography to be secondary, for the history of the event, the iconographic method remained only an appendant one, the task of which was to illustrate already finished synthesis, to which the historian came almost exclusively by using criticism of the sources of written nature. Iconographic exploration paid attention mostly to symbolism and iconography of the saints. To facilitate analysis of the representation and the discovery of semantic codes of images, German and French researchers assembled iconographic thesauruses as early as in the earliest decades of the twentieth century, designed mostly as interpretations of cultural reality; they helped to clarify a number of symbols in art. Inventory of particular picture elements allowed analysis of image and encoding of its content.[1]

  Images as authentic sources were used by a small number of historians as early as in the 19th and 20th Century.[2] The change was only brought about by a dynamic conception of the source, with which came representatives of the Annales "school". A source is here understood as a set of material properties, characteristics forming a certain information structure, which is constituted being based on questions asked by the historian. This information structure is thus not dependent only on material properties, but also on the level of knowledge, which is the starting point for formulation of questions. Newly formulated are questions asked with sources previously known, and moreover, the set of sources is extended with the use of previously unknown sources, or considered only as potential sources. This includes the use of image sources, which can not be overlooked in the works by Jean-Pierre Vernant, George Dubyho or Jean-Claude Schmidt. Interesting is the contribution of Michel Pastoureau who came from heraldic studies to interpretations of symbolism of colours. The new perspectives threw also the history of mentalities open to the iconographic sources, associated with the names of Philippe Aries and Michel Vovella; the latter organized in 1976 in Aix-en-Provence a colloquium entitled Iconographie et historie des mentalités.
  Regardless of their artistic value, iconographic sources are an unsubstitutable source of information. They present to the scholar a world of people and things, gestures, actions, objects, relationships, everydayness. They are a massive source for cultural history, whether they are symbolic image sources (facts and events are depicted by certain symbols; this includes maps, plans, technical drawings, diagrams) or - above all – the factual video sources (drawings and paintings, frescoes, graphics, cartoons, sculptures, pictorial cloth, book paintings and illustrations, advertising, photography, reportage and news film). Also in mapping contemporary gender stereotypes, iconographic sources offer almost undreamed-of possibilities.  
  Criticism and interpretation of an image source requires a special approach, which has several phases. Of course, there is distinction of (historical) reality from the artist's imagination. The artistic and documentary values of the spring are not usually in relation to one another. We always need to think about the function played by the image source at the time it was created. And finally, portrayals of certain human activities (swimming, food, love, death, birth, baptism, marriage, smoking pipes and drinking tea), portrayals of certain attributes, objects or beings (a vase with flowers, candle, mirror, dog, a bird in a cage) but also gestures (hand stretched out, a kiss on the mouth, placing the figures on the right or left), which we now seem like obvious and asymptomatic, still had in the 19th Century painting its own internal symbolism. Symbolic are also the colours used on clothes, for example: they say a lot about the social status, position or function of the person portrayed.[3]

  Throughout the ages, the world was reflected mainly by the man-painter. The woman was allowed to be muse of poets, novelists, painters, sculptors and musicians – through their eyes and based on their vision her image was interpreted and disseminated. It was a very old "privilege", falling into the time when the humans first tried to express their world through art. With the female figure he articulated his ideal, his hierarchy of values. Hence the emphasis on the feminine attributes, the attributes of motherhood in the prehistoric art and in the artistic expressions of some oriental despotisms, hence the unpopularity of the female theme in the art of the early Middle Ages. The Roman art did not provide many opportunities for visual representation of the woman as painting was essentially book, a free sculpture was rare. Reliefs on the portals of churches point to liking of the Apocalypse of St.. John - only occasionally the image of the son of God also included a not very clear figure of the Virgin Mary. The theme of the Last Judgment is followed by Christological and later on Marian cycles. Jesus' mother is the first woman, which the Christian art shows. An essential feature of the image is suppression of the physicality - from our environment let us remind Ostrov Psalter from around 1200 with a portrait of the Madonna enthroned.[4] Representation of Eve, rare even in the European context,[5] is not present in our environment. In Bohemia, the Marian theme developed for plate painting - the oldest example, Madonna of Most, was painted before 1345, Madonna of Veveří by Master of Vyšebrodský Altar before 1350, besides Vyšebrodský circle it was Madonna Vyšehradská, Madonna Zbraslavská or monumental Madonna Strahovská.[6] Master Theodoric, who decorated St. Cross Chapel at Karlstejn with plate paintings, captured along with other saints St. Catherine and St. Elizabeth of Thuringia. Master of Třeboň Altar extends the woman theme of the holy virgins Margaret, Mary Magdalene and Catherine.[7] Around the half of the 15th Century in Bohemia begins to apply a type of crowned Madonna called Assumptions.[8] Portraits noble mortals - donators, part from those modestly huddled in the corner of large folios, the bring book illuminations and sculpture; they are on seals, coins and medals. Despite the increasing ability of accurate and real expression, the portrait of a woman or a female character from the late Middle Ages to European Romanticism bear always a topoi: every time it is a display of the contemporary ideal of beauty or historical notions of badness, good, evil and sin. In the 15th Century, Madonna becomes a human being: in the European context, we encounter the motif of Madonna nursing Jesus. The number of portraits of other woman-saints is increasing.
  Renaissance shows both the biblical and mythological female figures while rehabilitating ordinary mortals, the portraits of whom are increasing in number. But the nude is allowed only in case of biblical or mythological beauties.[9] Only in the 19th Century painters dared to show a naked body, which belonged to neither goddess nor mythical figure. 
  The theme of Virgin Mary remained popular; it allowed stressing one of the ingredients of the female gender, motherhood. Imperative of diligence associated with a component of the housekeeper corresponds with the popularity of the sewing theme, an activity traditionally considered an attribute of femininity, regardless of the social environment.[10] In the second half of the 19th Century, the theme of a woman working in the field follows - this applies both to the French Millet, and for Czech Josef Manes. The canvas is conquered by demimonde women, visitors of cafes, prostitutes, only sporadically displayed in previous eras.
  The popularity of the female figure in the visual arts was also given by the fact that it allowed a clear personification of positive and negative values (more eloquent than any are Braun's Ctnosti and Neřesti (Virtues and Vices), the country and the nation: let us remind the French Marianne, suffering Czechia and indifferent to her suffering, Austria. This trend is evident even cartoon humour and satire - from the mid-19th Century, a growing number of people enjoyed it. In addition, the cartoon humour was fond of denouncing negative characteristics representing the female gender stereotype: chattiness, vanity, unreliability, inability to resist erotic temptation and from the late 19th Century, takes the female emancipation to task ....
  In the work of the painter, you can track the relationship between colours, forms and symbolic functions. Colours used on the clothes have usually their message, their symbolism, and sometimes (infrequently) even a gender code. They are one of the means of expressing not only the social status of the individual portrayed but also the specific time of some event: the robe the judge was wearing during a normal hearing was black, and when delivering judgments, the judge was wearing a red ceremonial robe.[11] Not wealthy peasants were depicted in muted colours, greyish or discoloured while the colours on the suits of princes and prelates shone brightly.[12]
A distinctive sign of wealth was the blue - the colour that will "stick", penetrates deep into the fabric. Its popularity was brought by the 12th and 13th Century and coincided with the change of religiosity: God became a light and the light is blue. The Marian cult boom joined: Virgin Mary wears the heaven blue. The blue became the colour of the Church and Mary's painful motherhood, it was primarily women who liked dressing blue. The 19th Century turned it into the colour of Republicans, opposing white of the monarchists and black of the clericals. After the First World War, it became the colour of the political conservatism, which it has remained.[13]

  Red is the colour of blood, love, and hell, it's a proud colour, filled with ambitions. It is fascinating and burns as the fire of Satan. Especially for religious reformers it was outrageous, so they drove it from the churches and from the suits of believers. From 16th Century men, with a few exceptions, do not wear red; in women's clothing it had never been very popular. But it had some positive features, it could turn away some evil forces: hence the use of red on koutnice, on the sheets protecting the bed of the Sundayer and the newborn, hence the popularity of red clothes in the early infancy. Other - again a "bad" face is the red sowing destruction, violence, anger, crime and sin. Its ambivalent nature was reinforced by the red lanterns hanging over the entrances to brothels. Red then marked the two sides of love: divine (the senior dignitaries of the Catholic Church dressed in red) and physically sinful. Since the late 18th Century it has acquired a tone of warning through the events of the French Revolution, later it became the colour of the political left.[14]

  White brings the most universal symbols, life, death. In our diction, it is associated with the absence of something: a white sheet (no text), a white night (no sleep), a blank check (no sum), whitewashed pub (temporarily without regulars); at the same time, white is the colour of purity, innocence and truce. White is the colour of virginity, nevertheless, the brides' white dresses do not have a very long history. It guarantees purity - for centuries underwear that directly touched the body was white, it was bleached and later boiled. The white skin remained a distinctive sign of the grandeur until the 19th Century. Then the bourgeoisie wanted to be distinguished from the pale of workers employed in factories: a tanned skin became a sign of a good social status, which allows a regular stay at sea.[15]

  Green is the mediating colour, peaceful, quiet, as apparent from the Roman and medieval texts and the famous Goethe tract. It performed the same function as the liturgical colour. It was gained quite easily from natural resources, but it was unstable, poorly kept on the fabric and painting groundwork used and this instability led to the point when it became a symbol of everything that moves, changing, it became the colour of fortuity, games, fate, good luck. Since around 1800, when the international signalling for vessels appeared, later taken over by trains and cars, the green, meaning permission, became the antithesis of the red, meaning a ban.[16]  Gender code has been looked for to no avail.
  The yellow hides the attributes of infamy. It is unstable; it is the colour of photos that fade, leaves that fall, people who betray. Judas was dressed in yellow; yellow was used to label homes of counterfeiters of coins. Gradually, it became a symbol of betrayal, lies, fraud. To her bad reputation contributed yellow sulphur, considered a diabolical element. Before the mid-14th Century, it became the colour of prostitution: since the Middle Ages, the prostitutes had to distinguish from ordinary women by their clothing. They wore a yellow cord or sash over their shoulders. Only at the end of the 19th Century, the reputation of the yellow improved.[17]

  The black colour along with white form together an important pair. Spontaneously we think of its negative characteristics, of death, grief, hell, underground. But the black is respectable, it indicates moderation, humility, nobility, authority, values, which Reformation professed, which declared war on bright colours. Thanks to it, the black became fashionable, the colour of Nobles. It was also the colour of pirates, anarchists took it in the 19th Century and later on, the black of the ultra-left became the black of the ultra-right.[18]

  The colour scale features numerous half-colours - pink, maroon, orange, purple, grey. Purple and grey were colours of elderly women, pink the colour of young girls. At the turn of the 19th and 20th Century, a shift comes in the use of colours: the colour was not used anymore to record the facts, but to induce the effect; and colours then gradually lose their connotations. With one exception - two pastel colours, once asymptomatic become distinctive character gender: "safeguard" red gave way to pink for girls and light blue for the boys. As the gender code, they remained until the late 20th Century.


[1] François GARNIER, Thesaurus iconographique. Système descriptif des représentations. Paris 1984, p. 13.
[2] Laurent GERVEREAU, Voir, comprendre, analyser les images. Paris 1994, p. 30.
[3] Daniel Roche, La culture des apparances. Une histoire du vêtement, XVIIe - XVIIIe siècle, Paris 1989, s. 18.
[4] ROYT, Středověké malířství, s. 16.
[5] Cf. the lintel of the northern portal of the cathedral St. Lazare in Autun. dating back about 1140. In the relief, there is a figure of Eve, creeping (!) to foliage to pick an apple, from which she turns her eyes away. Recently deposited in the Musée archéologique of Dijon.
[6] Jan ROYT, Středověké malířství v Čechách. Praha 2002, p. 53 – 55.
[7] ROYT, Středověké malířství, p. 99.
[8] ROYT, Středověké malířství, p. 113.
[9] Itzhak Goldberg, Le nu féminin : cherchez l´homme. In: Horatio Amigorena et Frédéric Monneyron (éds.): Le masculin. Identité, fiction, dissémination. Colloque de Cerisy, Paris 1998, s. 141.
[10] Georges DUBY, Michelle PERROT, Histoire des femmes en Occident. 4., Paris 1991, p. 313; Květa KŘÍŽOVÁ, Šlechtický interiér 19. století v dobových zobrazeních ze zámeckých sbírek. Praha 1993, p. 12; from images for example Georg Melchior Kraus ( 1737 - 1806), Stolní společnost Anny Amálie.  Zentralbibliothek Výmar. Repro: Slovník světového malířství, Praha 1991, 354 - 355.
[11] Laurent GERVEREAU, Voir, comprendre, analyser les images. Paris 1994, p. 33.
[12] Laurent GERVEREAU, Voir, comprendre, analyser les images. Paris 1994, p. 33.
[13] Michel Pastoureau, Dominique Simonnet, Le petit livre des couleurs. Paris, 2005, p. 15 – 23.
[14] Pastoureau, Simonnet, Le petit livre, p. 23 – 35.
[15] Pastoureau, Simonnet, Le petit livre, p. 35-46.
[16] Pastoureau, Simonnet, Le petit livre, p. 47-57.
[17] Pastoureau, Simonnet, Le petit livre, p. 63 – 68.
[18] Pastoureau, Simonnet, Le petit livre, p. 76 – 79.