Antiquities, Art & Archives, Paintings, Photographs, Film, and Video

An Alternative Beauty Pageant

Tonight is the Miss Universe pageant, in which contestants vied for a title and a Trump Tower apartment by donning swimsuits, evening gowns, and out-there costumes. (Update—Mexico won.)

But beauty queens are just so bland compared to the women that painters, photographers, and sculptors have captured in their work. Here, our nominees for an alternative pageant—one celebrating strength and wisdom over youth and bikinis.

An Old Woman with a Cat
Max Lieberman, 1878

This woman’s hands have seen decades of toil, but are still capable of great tenderness.

An Old Woman with a Cat / Liebermann

Woman, Patzcuaro, Mexico
Paul Strand, 1933

Strand liked to photograph “people who have strength and dignity in their faces.” She has both.

Woman, Patzcuaro, Mexico / Strand

© Aperture Foundation

Head of Athena
Greek, Asia Minor, 160–150 B.C.

Athena lost out to Aphrodite in the world’s first beauty contest, but so what? She still had wisdom and war strategy on her side.

Head of Athena / Greek

Young Italian Woman at a Table
Paul Cézanne, 1895–1900

Her sadness and distant gaze have a melancholy beauty.

Young Italian Woman at a Table / Cézanne

Got a nominee of your own? We’d love to hear about her.

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  1. anonymous
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I nominate Rachel for beauty queen, on the basis of her endurance, creativity, and self awareness. Here is her blog:

  2. Mary
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I have a photograph of my grandma in her 20’s bathing by a lake. she looks so young & carefree. its great to know that the old woman looking at me thru her thick specs still has a twinkle in her eye!

  3. Posted April 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you Annelisa. This photos are really more memorable and more expressive than those in the beauty pageant. I love the first photo The Old woman with the black cat, it looks meaningful to me..

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      A Brief History of the Fleur-de-lis in Art

      The fleur-de-lis, a familiar symbol with varied meanings and a rather obscure origin.

      If you read the labels of objects in museums bearing the fleur-de-lis (in French, fleur de lys, pronounced with the final “s”), you might notice that they were all made in France before the French Revolution of 1789. 

      What’s less apparent is that the fleur-de-lis marks objects that bear witness to a dramatic history of monarchy, democracy, and war: they speak to the inherent power of trappings commissioned for and by France’s pre-revolutionary kings.

      Adopted as a royal emblem in France by the 1100s, the fleur-de-lis can be traced to early Frankish monarchs including Clovis I, who converted to Christianity in 496, and the renowned Charlemagne. 

      A French word, fleur-de-lis translates literally to “lily flower.” This is appropriate given the association of lilies with purity (and the Virgin Mary) and given that France has long been known as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.” In truth, the stylized flower most closely resembles a yellow iris. 

      As a heraldic symbol used in the arms of the French monarchy, the fleur-de-lis often appears in yellow or gold tones and set on a blue shield. 

      Given its intimate royal associations, the fleur-de-lis invoked the ire of revolutionaries even before the fall of the monarchy in 1792. In addition to toppling royal statues, vandals chipped away at crowns and fleurs-de-lis adorning the façades of buildings.

      Full blog post on the Getty Iris here.


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