Donatello's David And The Blond Ideal

Davids As this earlier post suggests, the ideal of blonde beauty wasn't invented in Hollywood. Good luck finding a brunette Virgin Mary or Venus in a Quattrocentro painting. (Mary Magdalene generally has red hair.) But until yesterday, I didn't know that the blond ideal extended to Donatello's David.

The bronze statue was recently restored and stands in the foreground of the photo to the right. The restoration process identified where the statue originally included gilding. In the museum, if you look very closely you can, in a few places, detect tiny traces of the original gilding. (What you see in the photo is reflected light.) The statue in the back is an exact copy of the original, with the gilding restored.

Here's a closer picture of those shiny gold locks.


The two versions of the statue raise an interesting question about authenticity and copies. Nowadays, it's possible to make a perfect copy of a statue in bronze. So which is the more authentic version of the original? The one that looks the way Donatello intended the statue to look, or the one he actually worked on? As a matter of both modern taste (that gold is a bit much, at least under electric lights) and history, I prefer the original. But I also like seeing them together.

Glamour As A Role

Giorgia I doubt that anyone feels glamorous all the time. Effort is required to bathe, apply makeup or shave (if one does either), handle your hair, and dress in glamorous clothes. Reality-TV shows about aspiring models make it clear that would-be models can look fairly ordinary when just hanging around, and quite extraordinary when they have been prepared for a photo shoot by various designers and then photographed by a professional photographer with assistants helping with lighting (lighting is crucial).

Models are, to some degree, like living mannequins—sculptural canvases that designers can transform with make-up, hair styling, wigs, artificial lashes and nails, and different clothes and shoes. Clothing designers prefer that the models have slender bodies to hang clothes on, and the camera likes symmetrical faces with good underlying bone structure. And models have to be able to role-play. If the photographer wants them to look happy, sad, or peeved, they need to be able to project that quality.

For the ordinary person, glamour may also require playing a role. We are used to seeing ourselves in some roles—such as daughters, mothers, husbands, and people who do certain kinds of work. But we may not be used to seeing ourselves as a glamorous woman or man, because most of the time that is not the role we play in life. But there are occasions and venues that could allow us to play those roles, if we can manage to allow ourselves do it.

Some women and men that I know enjoy the opportunity to dress up and go out looking more glamorous than usual, while others are quite uncomfortable at the prospect of having to dress up for a special occasion, and will dress up as little as is socially acceptable. Perhaps the latter have a difficult time thinking of themselves in the role of glamorous man or woman going out for the evening. This might be easier if thought of as a temporary role.

An event that gives us the chance to dress up may only last a few hours, and some may find it hard to justify spending money in that way. (And to make an extra effort will likely involve spending some extra time and money, and has to be done within what each person can afford.) But the essential requirement is not spending a lot of money, but rather granting ourselves permission to look out-of-the-ordinary relative to our everyday activities, to be seen as having dolled up for an occasion--to play, for a limited span of time, the role of a more glamorous person. And, if we choose to play that role, why not enjoy ourselves and do it with a touch of panache?

[Photo courtesy of Giorgia Cifani. In the photo, she is dressed to attend the SAG Awards.]

Industrial Glamour

In the 20th century, photographers like Margaret Burke-White and Charles Sheeler portrayed industrial plants with remarkable glamour. Nowadays, we're less excited by the products of industry and more likely to focus on negative environmental effects. As a result, we tend to think of such places as eyesores. As these photos contributed to the DeepGlamour pool by Flickr user beef.200% demonstrate, however, portraits of contemporary industry can also be glamorous. Instead of the crisp black-and-white geometries of earlier photographers, here the trick is building an enticing sense of mystery with the plants' high-intensity lights and the night-time mist. (I'm guessing these are refineries or chemical plants, but I don't know for sure. Check out the rest of the photos in the set here.)



Small Daily Pleasures

Colter_mug Twice in my life I have been invited into homes that contained no objects designed to provide visual pleasure. No artwork, no family heirlooms, no knickknacks, plain  furniture, and plain food served on the plainest plates imaginable. In both cases the husbands were tenured university professors, so poverty was not the cause. One family was Quaker, but lacked the love of beautifully made, simply-designed furniture that many Quakers have. The other family was Jewish and had escaped Europe during World War II. Despite the husband’s success in America, their outlook on life remained as bleak as their home.

In both cases I went home needing to look at some of the visual “treasures” my wife and I have collected for our home. Their cost, whatever that was, is not what makes them treasures to us--what makes them valuable is the pleasure we have in using and looking at them.

The mug shown in the photo is a contemporary version of one designed by architect Mary Colter (1869-1958) for the Santa Fe railroad as part of her Super Chief china. The quail motif is a stylized version of one found on ancient pottery from the Mimbres culture , long vanished from the American Southwest. Coulter was one of the first women architects, and she designed several important buildings for Fred Harvey and the National Park Service. Her buildings remain stylish even today.

I love having morning tea in this mug. It’s beautifully shaped, sturdy, and feels good both in your hand and on your lips. Like most of the objects any of us collect, this one brings back memories and associations, including where we were when we purchased it.

Unfortunately, with familiarity we often take for granted the beauty and pleasure that our collected objects provide us on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s good to remember, to stop and look at them. In an important sense, they help define who we are. I had taken a seminar with one of the professors mentioned above, and I learned more about him as a person in one quick glance around his living room than I had in a whole semester of discussions.

Wrecking The Magic

2738828455_36b9e13b87 Perhaps the most glamorous couple I have seen during the day was on a vaporetto (motorized bus-boat) in Venice. She was a young Italian beauty whose graceful long neck reminded me of a young Audrey Hepburn. Her dress was exquisite, perfect for a fancy holiday. Her partner was tall, dark, and ridiculously handsome, and he wore a beautiful Italian suit, his jacket draped casually over his shoulders.

It was late Friday afternoon, sunny, and the temperature was exquisite. The vaporetto was leaving from the train station, and from her excited look I assumed they were there for a weekend vacation. The setting was extraordinary, and every once in a while she would stretch up and kiss him on the neck or cheek. The only flaw in this romantic image was that he was talking business on his cell phone the whole ride.

He was not there in the moment. My wife observed, "He's wrecking this for her. He doesn't deserve her." Cell phones are marvelous, but I wonder how many potentially romantic moments they ruin.

In John Fowles novel Daniel Martin one chapter takes place at an amazing mesa in New Mexico named Tsankawi. When you hike to the mesa top there, you walk on the same trails the Anasazi (Ancient Ones) used centuries ago. The trails are worn into soft volcanic tuff, and in places the trails are worn so deep that you have no choice but to place your feet exactly where they did. I’ve hiked those trails, and doing so created an extraordinary feeling. The surrounding views are magnificent.

45143677_dc007c3295 When you reach the mesa top, not much remains of the Anasazi village. But you can find shards of their pottery lying on the ground (it’s a Federal crime to remove them). In the novel Daniel takes his girlfriend Jenny there because he wants to share what to him is a magical place. When they reach the mesa top, she is fascinated by the shards, and begins to collect them to make necklaces as presents for her friends. Not only does she miss the magical aura he feels, but she is desecrating it. She says the shards she’s collecting will never be missed. After that Daniel stops seeing her, and she, knowing the reason, tells him that it wasn’t fair for him to take her there as a test.

Was it a fair test or not? Not everyone will share all our personal enthusiasms. If we take someone we care about to a place we find magical, is it a fair test to take their indifference to that enchantment as a sign--an indication that they are not as much our hoped-for soul mate as we had imagined them to be?

[Vaporetta photo courtesy of Flickr user Nick Bramhall, Tsankawi photo courtesy of Flickr user KinnicChick, both under Creative Commons licenses.]

Musei Della Città Delle Belle Donne

Via Delle Belle Donne

Not surprisingly, a city whose ancient streets include one dedicated to Beautiful Women takes the art of beauty seriously--and not just in the gorgeous faces depicted by Botticelli, Leonardo, and the Lippis.

You can buy perfumes and lotions at the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, the oldest apothecary in Europe, or spend nothing and enjoy the perfumed air while gazing at frescoes and centuries-old ceramics jars.

The Salvatore Ferragamo shoe museum confirms Andy Warhol's observation that department stores and museums are much the same. It also demonstrates, in the contrast between its historic archives and the current exhibit of shoes from the movie Australia, that the chunky styles of the 1940s look better in larger sizes. (There's another YouTube feature, with background on the museum, here.)

My favorite discovery, however, is the tiny Museo della Ciprie, or Museum of Powder Boxes, really just a special room in a perfume shop on the tony Via de' Tornabuoni, not far from Ferragamo. The museum houses a collection of the decorative boxes in which face powder was sold through the first half of the 20th century. How do you package the promise of beauty? Here's a slideshow of examples.


DG Contest: Sothys Bath Scrub And Gel

Image002 A French favorite since 1946, the Sothys line is characterized by essential oils and natural active ingredients.   This luxury skincare can be enjoyed at home as well as in the Sothys Institutes in Paris and New York.

Thanks to Katherine at KMR Communications, DG is giving away:

 Delicious Scrub
: A sensuous texture, with spices, ginger, nutmeg, orange and mandarin essential oils, which soften and delicately perfume the skin.

Energizing Shower Gel
: With eucalyptus, cardamom, nutmeg, and neroli essential oils for radiant and tonic skin.

Please be the first reader to email me at kate AT deepglamour DOT net with name and address and the correct answer to this question:

What's the meaning of the name "Sothys"?

(The winner will receive both products, sent by KMR Communications.)

Selling The Tuscan Dream

I saw this ad on Italian television, in a restaurant without the sound, and was struck by its weird glamour. Judging from the YouTube comments, some Italians worry that it's reinforcing stereotypes, but I think it acknowledges traditional imagery in an exuberant and contemporary style. It's like a fashion spread in motion. What do you think?

Glamour Knows Its Audience

Young_girl Personal glamour, especially in the sense of magic, makes little sense unless it is audience-aware, even if the audience is oneself. A woman might dress up to assure herself that she is attractive (a man might do the same), or put on nice clothes to brighten her mood. The notion of personal glamour suggests a person who is somewhat aware that he or she is seen as attractive and is (to some degree) comfortable with that.

One of most celebrated epiphanies in literature occurs in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the novel Stephen Dedalus searches for his calling, and vacillates between the priesthood and a career as a artist. He struggles with this intellectually, until, walking on the beach, he encounters mortal beauty and is overwhelmed.

A girl stood before him in midstream: alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips where the white fringes of her drawers were like featherings of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird's, soft and slight; slight and soft as the breast of some dark plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish; and girlish and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.

She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither: and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.

—Heavenly God! cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him.
Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!

The young girl’s reactions are crucial to Stephen’s experience. She has hiked up her skirts to stand barefoot in the stream, and then, sensing she has an audience, she turns her head. Stephan's ecstatic experience could never have happened if she had quickly turned away in embarrassment. Or if, unnerved by his enraptured gaze, she had begun to back away from him. Instead she looks at him and holds his gaze, tolerating him as he, awestruck, continues to absorb her mortal beauty. 

Given her poise, surely this young girl has experienced worshipful gazes before. Perhaps her slender legs have been shaped by Irish folk dancing, and she is confident about her body and used to having an audience. Still, could she ever have imagined that at some unexpected moment, unplanned and transient, she would turn to find a young man gazing at her as if she were a young goddess risen from the sea?

Yet graciously she meets his gaze, captivates him, and then, by turning away, releases him. Surely, when she looks back to see him striding off in ecstatic joy, “singing wildly to the sea,” she knows her appearance has played its part in bewitching this strange young man. I suspect she smiles a little.

She has become, if she was not before, audience-aware. When she looks into her mirror that evening, she may see some reflection of the wonder she saw in that young man’s eyes.

[Photograph by Randall Shinn.]

Suffering The Gaze

With this post, Randall Shinn joins the DG team. After long enjoying the benefits of his insightful emails, I'm delighted to have a chance to share some of his ideas with DG readers.--VP

Artemis How do glamorous people develop the capacity to "suffer the gaze” (a phrase used by James Joyce). In the abstract it may sound exciting to have people stare at you because your appearance seems beyond the norm, but what would that feel like in real life?

In the film Pushing Tin Angelina Jolie arrives at a gathering of air traffic controllers and their wives, and her appearance is so darkly seductive that the other wives distrustfully fixate on her. In real life, how many women could handle that?

While attending an art opening in Phoenix I saw an attractive young woman enter whose high-fashion dress successfully revealed most of her runway-ready figure. The short skirt flared like a tutu, showing off long legs accentuated by high heels. The bib-like top of her dress performed flawlessly. Tied at the neck it revealed her back, the sides of her torso, and sometimes even the sides of her breasts. But it steadfastly refused to reveal more, thus maintaining a hint of decorum and leaving something to the imagination. 

Sooner or later she attracted the gaze of every single person in the warehouse-sized gallery. She remained absolutely poised and seemed completely comfortable. Regardless of what other women thought of her dress, I doubt any of them could have worn it so nonchalantly.

People such as actors and models are expected to “suffer the gaze” of others. Do they gradually become comfortable doing this? How important is training? Do some simply act “as if” they feel comfortable? Have others been comfortable drawing attention from an early age?

I learned something about the last possibility from a conversation I had with a woman whom I’ll call Artemis, after the Greek goddess of the hunt. Artemis is an exceptionally self-confident woman and remarkably striking in appearance. She’s tall, lean-muscled, with strong, angular cheekbones, pale amber eyes, and a wild mane of strawberry-blonde hair. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I was writing about “suffering the gaze,” she responded, “Some women have the confidence inside to do that.” 

I realized she was talking about herself, so I asked her when she had first felt that way, and, thinking back, she said somewhere between the age of eight and ten. From that age on she had had a feeling she described as “a fire inside,” a competitive confidence that caused her to accept any task given to her and say, “I’ll handle it,” even if she knew nothing about how to do it. From that same age she also realized that people liked looking at her, partly because of her striking appearance, and partly because she projected that inner fire.

As she grew into a young woman she learned to signal, as she described it, that “it’s fine to look, but beware of getting too close, you might get burned.” By her twenties she was radiantly happy, which only increased the attention she might attract simply walking down the street, and this sometimes became a nuisance. She also found that some people could mistake her passion for life as a passion for them, so gradually she had to work harder to maintain her personal boundaries.

Some of the circumstances of her childhood were the stuff of nightmares. She had a pathologically self-absorbed mother and a older sister who was confined to a separate part of the house, especially after she almost succeeded in murdering her younger siblings, one by poison and the other by blunt force. Fortunately, her grandfather taught Artemis to hunt and fish, which helped her grow into a tigress who has belly-crawled through prairie grass and cactus to drop a buffalo with a big-game rifle (I saw a photograph), and all with beautifully manicured nails.

She said it’s easy to be self-confident when you don’t care what others think about you. Once she realized that as a young girl, she decided to live her life that way. She said that at any given time there are only a handful of people whose opinions matter to her.

Few of us, I think, could be so fiercely independent from such a early age, perhaps if ever. I suspect most of us would have (or have had) some inner barriers to overcome before, in real life, we could feel comfortable suffering the gaze of a multitude of strangers.