Ideal Female Bodies (ii)


Italian Renaissance (c. 1400 – 1700)

Renaissance Italy was an extremely Catholic, patriarchal society. Women were meant to embody virtue and were often separated from men both in public and at home. A woman’s value was linked to her relationship with men, whether it was God, her father, or her husband.

The quality of both a wife’s behaviour and looks were thought to reflect her husband’s status. Beauty in Renaissance Italy meant a rounded body, including full hips and large breasts. Pale skin, strawberry blonde hair, and high foreheads were all thought of as the height of physical beauty.

“Choose neither a woman nor linen by candlelight.” ― Italian Proverb

Victorian England (c. 1837 – 1901)

The Victorian era of England lasted the length of Queen Victoria’s reign. She was the most influential figure of the era, a young queen who became a young wife and mother. Domesticity, family, and motherhood were highly valued in Victorian society, because these values were embodied by Queen Victoria herself.

The style of the time reflected women’s motherly position in society. Women wore corsets to cinch their waists as tightly as possible, creating an hourglass figure. These corsets physically restrained women’s range of motion, flaunting their separation from physical labour. Women also wore their hair long as a symbol of femininity.

“She wore tight corsets to give her a teeny waist – I helped her lace them up – but they had the effect of causing her to faint. Mom called it the vapors and said it was a sign of her high breeding and delicate nature. I thought it was a sign that the corset made it hard to breathe.” ― Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses

See other: Ideal Female Body Types Throughout History

What If Christianity Had Defeated Reason?


What if the Christian organised religion had successfully blocked all scientific progress and philosophical development of reason for the past 2000 years?

  • We would probably still think the earth was located at the centre of the solar system (this school of thought is known as geocentrism, as opposed to heliocentrism), despite what brilliant astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo have argued.
  • We would still think that the sun revolved around the earth. (Having said that, in 2012, 18% of Americans still believed the sun revolves around the earth.)
  • Mankind would probably not have tolerated any kind of modern democracy, since theocratic politics do not tolerate opposing views, let alone critical or secular ones. After all, there is a strong argument to be made that organised religion does not tolerate dissent.
  • Secularists, radical and experimental scientists, thinkers and philosophers – dissenters of any kind for that matter – would still be silenced. That is, regularly burned at the stake.
  • Homosexuals, bisexuals and people with multiple casual sexual partners would probably be in the same amount of danger as people of a similar nature are nowadays in central Africa – perhaps even more danger.
  • Women would still be banned from most of public life; in the same way history has shown us for the past centuries.
  • We would still think human beings are a special divinely created exception in biology. Facts about evolution and genetics would be unknown.
  • And since mankind would be considered to be above nature, animals would probably be exploited even more than today.
  • Since evidence based sciences would have a tough time, evidence based medicine would probably not exist in the form we know today, we would still use quacks, faith healers and prayer to combat diseases instead of vaccinations and other medications.
  • Nations that would identify themselves as devoutly Christian would probably still be fighting religious wars against the other faithful.
  • Many of the works of noteworthy intellectual figures would never have been published (perhaps because they were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum or similar black list). Notable thinkers on this list include: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, André Gide, Emanuel Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, Thomas Browne, John Milton, John Locke, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal and Hugo Grotius. (Interestingly, Charles Darwin’s works were never included.)

‘Yes. To you, Baldrick, the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people, wasn’t it? […] No that’s what I think, that’s what I think, what do you think? Try to have a thought of your own, Baldrick. Thinking is so important. What do you think?’

– Joseph M. 1998. Blackadder The Whole Damn Dynasty London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (1999) p. 137-138

Agnès Sorel and Toplessness


Perhaps surprisingly, in many European societies between the Renaissance and the 19th century, exposed breasts were more acceptable than they are today, with a woman’s bared legs, ankles or shoulders being considered to be more risqué than her exposed breasts.

As a result of the Renaissance, many artists were strongly influenced by classical Greek styles and culture, and images of nude and semi-nude subjects in many forms proliferated in art, sculpture and architecture of the period. In aristocratic and upper-class circles the display of breasts also invoked associations with classical Greek nude sculptures and art and was at times regarded as a status symbol, as a sign of beauty, wealth or social position. To maintain youthful-looking bosoms women could employ wet nurses to breastfeed their children.

Agnès Sorel, Dame de Beauté, the Favourite Mistress of King Charles VII of France, to Whom She Bore Three Daughters.

Breast-baring female fashions have been traced to 15th-century courtesan Agnès Sorel, mistress to Charles VII of France, whose gowns in the French court sometimes exposed one or both of her breasts.

As reflected in contemporary art, she was an extraordinarily beautiful young woman, and was also of above-average intelligence. The French king was immediately enamoured of her and she soon became his mistress. The King gave her the Château de Loches (where he had been persuaded by Joan of Arc to be crowned King of France) as her private residence.

Soon, her presence was felt at the royal court in Chinon where her company was alleged to have brought the king out of a protracted depression.She had a very strong influence on the king, and that, in addition to her extravagant tastes, earned her a number of powerful enemies at court.

Agnès gave birth to three daughters fathered by the King: Marie de France, Charlotte de France, and Jeanne de France. (Charlotte’s son, Louis de Brézé, seigneur d’Anet, in turn married Diane de Poitiers, herself ultimately a famous royal mistress.)

While pregnant with their fourth child, she journeyed from Chinon in deep midwinter to join Charles on the campaign of 1450 in Jumièges, wanting to be with him as moral support. There, she suddenly became ill and died at the age of 28. While the cause of death was originally thought to be dysentery, scientists have now concluded that Agnès died from being poisoned by mercury, possibly the victim of murder, although mercury was also used to treat worms. She was interred in the Church of St. Ours, in Loches.

Charles’ son, the future King Louis XI, had been in open revolt against his father for the previous four years. It has been speculated that he had Agnès poisoned in order to remove what he may have considered her undue influence over the king. It was also speculated that French financier, noble and minister Jacques Coeur poisoned her, though that theory is widely discredited as an attempt to remove Coeur from the French court. In 2005 French forensic scientist Philippe Charlier examined her remains and determined that the cause of death was mercury poisoning, but offered no opinion about whether she was murdered. Mercury was sometimes used in cosmetic preparations and this could therefore have been the reason for her death. Her cousin Antoinette de Maignelais took her place as mistress to the king after her death.

In general; aristocratic women sought to immortalise their breasts in paint, as in the case of Simonetta Vespucci, whose portrait with exposed breasts was painted by Piero di Cosimo in c.1480. During the 16th century, women’s fashions displaying their breasts were common in society, from Queens to common prostitutes, and emulated by all classes.

Similar fashions became popular in England during the 17th century when they were worn by Queen Mary II and by Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England, for whom architect Inigo Jones designed a masque costume that fully revealed both of her breasts.

From the mid-19th century onward, however, social attitudes shifted to require women’s breasts to be covered in public, especially in the United States. This attitude has been reflected to a more limited degree in the arts. In the 1930s, the Hays Code brought an end to nudity in all its forms, including toplessness, in Hollywood films. Although a degree of liberalization took place in the later 20th century, contemporary Western societies still generally view toplessness unfavourably, with the very term topless often carrying the connotation of sexual licentiousness or deliberate defiance of cultural taboo.

See other: Hall of Fame Posts

On The Renaissance


‘Yes. To you, Baldrick, the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people, wasn’t it?’

– Joseph M. 1998. Blackadder The Whole Damn Dynasty London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (1999) p. 137