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Path 4 - Heroines of Virtue

The fourth path concentrates on the representation of feminine intimacy and erotic love between women

Women: Revolutionary People

Whether within mythological legends or Christian traditions, all women discussed within this path are trailblazers who broke with the repressive roles of their time. Only by overcoming or erasing social and gender boundaries did these women become an integral part of art history.

Saint Margaret – Conqueror of Sexual Temptation

References to female homosexuality in the Middle Ages are exceedingly rare and they were usually denounced or not taken seriously. In particular, for many women, the strict rejection of heterosexual intercourse or of a heterosexual marriage led to their martyrdom, as a result of which they were canonised. Thus, at least from the moment they dedicated their life to God, abstinence became a mandatory requirement for the canonisation of women. Such was the case with Saint Margaret, who refused to marry in order to dedicate her life fully to God. The legend of her martyrdom illustrates the victory of female sexual self-determination over man. For her male “colleagues”, however, the question of sexual activity was irrelevant.

Female Intimacy as Heterosexual Stimulation

Bathing scenes were the most popular scenarios in which naked women were shown during the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Among the most frequently used themes was the mythological scene of Diana and Her Nymphs. The nymphs were the followers of the goddess Diana, who as a female deity would go hunting, an activity usually reserved for men, and was often portrayed with a well-toned body, as in the sculpture by Bernardino Cametti (1669–1736). Nymphs and other mythological figures, such as the Three Graces, were often depicted naked while bathing or sleeping, or exchanging gestures of erotic affection, as seen in the relief by Simone Mosca (ca. 1523–1578), The Fall of Phaeton. Paradoxically, the depictions of such gestures of affection among women were mostly commission by men as a form of heterosexual titillation.