What is this Role of Uncomfortable Art? Jusepe De Ribera and My Booby Painting

Listening to a podcast on Baroque artist Jusepe De Ribera 1591 – 1652, I learned he was proud of who he was, a Spaniard in Italy. He played that part of himself up in his signage and setting himself apart from Caravaggio, a direct influence. He married into an art dealer’s family and plotted himself in Naples where a Spaniard at that time could operate freely. He was a painter of the uncomfortable. Popular subjects included the disfigured, the abnormal, the elderly with their sagging skin and giving dignity, unique beauty and contemplation to the otherwise grotesque. Violent scenes of pain and suffering populate his body of work, public executions were evident in this time and the public was fascinated.

His painting, Magdalena Ventura With Her Husband And Son reminded me of my own Booby painting. Both featuring at least one open breast, although the open breast was not as taboo as it is maybe thought of today, but there’s an element of strange outside of that in both. Androgyny was not particularly popular nor desirable at this time but the lady in Jusepe De Ribera’s painting was commissioned and modelled after rumours of one such character who was both mother and income contributor to her family, despite her unusual hair growth. Her standing pose depicted while nursing is a sign of her strength and ability to get up on with it just days after birth. The bearded lady is dignified, capable and a proud provider to her family.

As for Booby, I’m not sure what she was trying to say. A science experiment gone wrong? Gone right? Maybe a provider to her family, to society as a whole? Ham and bacon she provides to Canadian breakfast lovers, her insulin has saved a lot of diabetics, is this painting so far off? She seems dignified with an almost serene look upon her face and on all four feet and getting just right on with it despite her circumstance. A pretty bow tied to her foot, perhaps she is a gift.

What do uncomfortable works of art do for us? Maybe they give us a new perspective on ourselves and how we view each other. Maybe they ask us to question our own assumptions and help us imagine a world without them. Maybe they stretch the possibility of how society may nor may not function. I can only guess.

I can’t help but think he has been an unconscious influence. Seeing his painting and learning the story behind it has somehow revived my own appreciation to my very own, hard to sell Booby painting 🐖

Original painting and prints of Booby available at Saatchiart

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