OK, what do the picture above, The Investiture of St Ildefonso by Nicholas Rodriguez Juarez and the one below, Sultry Night by Grant Wood have in common? Give up? Well it’s the tormented sexuality of certain viewers of those works. Huh?
Top one first. You see it as Sr. Juarez painted it more or less. Sometime thereafter however it was on its way to a perch on the wall of a convent when head abbess perhaps, but I’ll wager a priest, decided that an image of a man in that milieu would serve naught but untoward arousal.
The painting was thus altered so that he became a she. When it arrived at a new home some centuries later it was sent to a conservation lab for inspection and cleaning. X-rays showed that what appeared to be a kneeling nun was actually a man saint in drag. Drag was undone and voila.
Sultry story even funnier. Looks weirdly lopsided, right? Well, didn’t start out that way. Look at Wood’s lithograph of the same scene below and you’ll see what I mean. An attempt to send the original (whole) painting to a show via the USPS was blocked by a repressed postal inspector and so Wood excised the self-showering farmer.
The resultant state of the painting is somehow perfectly obtuse and, with knowledge of the back story, homeopathically conveys a sense of the zeitgeist far more subtly than did, say, the film American Beauty much more recently…
cf post 8/21/09