Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Iconic Images 5

Some days ago a friend send me the link to this image. I had not seen it before but it immediately struck a chord with me. I looked at it and was fascinated by it. I realised that it was an iconic image.

What do I really mean by an iconic image? You know, by now, how self centred I am so the meaning is about how I look upon images. I think, that it mean that it represent or illustrates a fantasy or some important part of a fantasy, an idea or a sensation. Most iconic images I have written about are old favourites but I realised it didn't have to be like that. So here is a very new iconic image. The painting is old, no doubt about that but it is new to me.

When you look at an image you are an observer, you don't necessary identify with the people in it. So I will start there. This is an image of a woman, a very white woman standing naked in front of two reclining men. There is a clad woman behind them, standing and a half naked to her side, sitting. This is a very simple description.

But it is so much more. Perhaps she is a slave that is new to the harem and she is assessed by the master of the house. Or maybe one of the men owns her and is trying to sell her to the other.

I don't know for certain but that doesn't matter. I think she is a slave or soon to be slave. She stands naked before the reclining men. She is property, a thing and she can be bought and sold like an animal. She is naked and they are clothed, they have the power she is helpless, they give nothing, she everything, even her body, her person. When she is sold, someone else gets the profit. She gets nothing. What could be more degrading? And why is it still exciting?

Depending on who you are you may identify with different people in the image. I identify with her. She is the main character so this is not strange, I think. What would it be like, standing there, naked and vulnerable like that? Being watched and scrutinised, being seen and not allowed to cover up. Everything is visible, the whole you is visible. Why is it so exciting?

There is something immensely sweet and delightful in it. Watching from the outside everyone can see she is beautiful. Who doesn't want to be beautiful? She is exposed and in this situation it seems appropriate that she is being looked at. There is no shame in ogling her, that is what she is there for. Could that be part of the appeal for those of you who identify with the men?

Isn't there also a sense that being this beautiful and deserving to be at the centre of attention is nice, being seen as something lovely and knowing that you are lovely, just the way you are? Being naked is about being uncovered, being seen as who you are, not what you do or perform but who you are. Being beautiful as you are.

Being naked is also being attractive, being sexual, the promise of arousal and pleasure. Being that slave is being beautiful, sexual and desirable. And, perhaps, being forced, being at someone's command makes you free of guilt and free of responsibility. Being forced to be something that is good and delightful and pleasant.

These are just thoughts about some of the mixed feelings involved, how something that undoubtedly must be degrading and shameful on one level is desirable and sweet on another. And the strangest thing of all, in this mix the shameful and degrading becomes something desirable and the analysis breaks down. An image is an image and everything is there at the same time.

Fantasies are powerful and images that feed those fantasies are blessings. I am glad I was shown this image.


Paul said...

Janice, for me the naked woman becomes a prized possession.
What male hasn't dreamt of having a harem.
Solomon had a thousand wives and was reputably wise. Many of the wives would have been slaves, I doubt the wives and indeed the wisdom.
The reality is that many of us find one woman more than enough.
Most of us know this, yet the figure of a beautiful naked slave woman trips so many semi and unconscious triggers.
Warm hugs,

Anonymous said...

Janice -- I am not positive, but from clues in the painting I rather suspect it is a scene from myth (legend or even history). As I recall, a King was so proud of his wife's beauty that he bade her present herself, nude, before his guest (and friends). The result was that the guest, smitten with her beauty, killed the King, and took the wife for his own.

Even if this is so, it takes nothing from the charm of the picture, or its erotic possibilities. Indeed, being paraded naked before drunken guests would be more humiliating for a wife than a slave (who, whatever her feelings, would be used to such treatment).


wilhelmina said...

It looks to me as though she is being sold or presented to a possible new owner. I love the look on his face (the chap in the blue) he is fascinated as if he has not seen her like before. The other women are interesting too. The woman behind the men looks like she has seen it all before and knows what the woman is in for (she may be a/the wife) whereas the dark woman looks a little wistful.

I can't even imagine what it would be like to have such a thing really happen yet in fantasies it can become an exciting idea.

one of the film versions of Helen of Troy has a scene much like you described. Helen is paraded naked in front of the guests and Paris falls in love with her and persuades her to leave with him.


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Ollie said...

When I clicked on the picture to expand it a picture title was given as White Slave.

Like Wilhelmina I noted the expression of the standing woman, she had seen it all before. One of the men seems to be deferential to the other who is dressed more richly. Perhaps she is being sold.

Being white, very white I expect she would be a rarity, and a prized possession.

For me the reality of bed-slavery gets in the way of enjoying the fantasy. Whilst it appears arousing safe from our position, she would become inured to her treatment, and it probably wouldn't change from feeling abusive to being pleasant. Slaves are not allowed feelings are they?

Although the fantasy from the other side of the divide is appealing as Paul says, one wife is certainly enough.

Janice said...

Dear Paul, thank you for your comment. I take it you enjoyed the image. Thing is, this image works both ways. Not sure if every woman has dreamt of being in a harem but some have, I know that for sure.

Dear Marcus, I think you may be right. But even if you are, I can't get rid of the thought that the painter used the myth to allow himself to depict the scene. In the same way as it seems alright for a painter to put a naked woman on a couch as long as she is called Aphrodite or Venus (I know they are the same or almost the same).

Dear Mina, it is like you to look for the interesting faces around the naked woman. I like them too and the fact that you can't be sure what they are thinking only adds to the excitement, don't you think? And being paraded naked in front of guests at a party is one of those things that work better in fantasies than reality...but what do I know? I have no real life experience of it so maybe I am wrong.

Dear Ollie, you, wisely, point to the contradiction in these kind of thoughts. The reality of a slave girl was not that exciting and not being allowed feelings is not something we want. But in my imagination I am really free and therefore it works.



Anonymous said...

Until discovering your blog, I had not considered the positive aspects of (fantasy) enslavement for the enslaved woman - the feelings of being desired, admired, envied by other harem girls, and worth a high price. Previousy I only recognized the delicious humiliation that the girl would experience from being exhibited naked, sold, and forced to serve her new master's will.


Michael G

Anonymous said...

Just maybe she didn't want her clothes to get dirty and have to send them to get dry-cleaned?

Janice said...

Dear Michael G, must have missed your comment, thank you for it. Sorry for the delay.

Dear Anonymous, *giggles.