Andy Beresford (Durham University), St Barbara, the Severed Breast, and the Problem of Pious Pornography
In recent years critics have argued that hagiography provides a doctrinally licit forum for visualizing and memorializing representations of the naked female body. Characterized as phallically charged objects of power and desire, implements of coercion and torture displace the act of rape while procedures of scopic objectification transform the saintly victim into a locus of voyeuristic and fetishistic pleasure. The male observer is figured by implication as a potential rapist in the hagiographic plot. Yet, how watertight is this thesis, and for whose benefit is the gaze sexualized? Perhaps more fundamentally, can an issue as complex as gender be fully and properly understood in a critical vacuum that excludes representations of the naked male subject? Is it really true that all male observers approach Barbara’s forced mastectomy by raping her with their eyes, or can theories of alterity be exploited as a hermeneutic for the development of a more nuanced and culturally sensitive approach towards the problem of sexualized violence? If so, what specifically could be said about the unique socio-cultural characteristics of early Iberian society and the mechanisms of narrative elaboration embraced by artists in the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century retable?
Andy Beresford is Professor of Hispanic Studies at Durham University. He has published widely on the legends of the saints, including books on St Agnes (2007), Sts Thaïs and Pelagia (2007), St Agatha (2010), and most recently, St Bartholomew (2020). He is currently working on a study of the corporeality of martyrdom in early Iberian art and literature.
The seminar series has been jointly organised by the Zurbarán Centre and the ARTES Iberian and Latin American Visual Culture Group in association with the Embassy of Spain and the Instituto Cervantes.
The event is free and open to all. Please click here for the full programme and more information on the seminar series.