For a beautiful woman, the battle never ends

Jupiter and Thetis by you.

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“An objective and unprejudiced look at the real world shows that only a limited category of men have gorgeous women: religious leaders, billionaires, film and television stars, famous actors, famous directors and gangsters.” —Francesco Alberoni in L’Erotismo (translation mine) [1].

Alberoni arrives at this argument by positing that able, attractive and even fascinating men have been known to choose to be with less attractive or even ugly women. This is because they know the price that comes with beautiful women.

The price – still according to Alberoni (I agree) – is battle. Splendid beauty is indissolubly connected to power, and power is connected to danger, much like that other category in aesthetics, the sublime. Alberoni goes on to invoke Helena as the archetypical beautiful woman in Goethe’s Faust.

Faust asks:

Before the prize of beauty, lo I stand,
But who assures the prize to me?

Because Faust knows, as was the case with Helen of Troy that for a beautiful woman, the battle never ends.

16 thoughts on “For a beautiful woman, the battle never ends

  1. georgy

    I beg to differ.

    I have seen many couples where beauty, not power, formed male attractivity. There are other cases where intellect was paramount, were Miller or Di Maggio powerful ? Did they have to fight for Marylin ? They were attractive in some way, though.

    I guess that whenever women have power on their own, they obtain the latitude not to be trophies. OTOH, I also know beautiful girls who wont admit that their beauty is a currency and won’t assess their worth in this marketplace.

  2. R J Keefe

    It’s interesting — the idea of the companionate marriage is still a new one, and probably unavailable to most people living today. Might there be an equation that would inversely correlate “objective” beauty and companionability? They are strangely different attractors.

  3. jahsonic

    Arthur Miller was a famous playwright, Joe Di Maggio was a famous boxer. Alberoni’s axiom will room for them, don’t you think?

    Di Maggio was a star, so was Miller.

    There are of course exceptions.


  4. jahsonic

    Yes, you are right, the Ingres is more to illustrate

    “religious leaders, billionaires, film and television stars, famous actors, famous directors and gangsters.”

  5. Paul Rumsey

    I find that Ingres a very funny picture, I am sure it was not meant to be….
    that cross looking eagle, the expression on Jupiter’s face, the way she plays with his beard while he pretends not to notice…. can anyone look at that picture without laughing?

  6. lichanos


    Cross looking eagle might be partly due to color distortion through reproduction. Certainly, it was NOT meant to be funny. Did Ingres have a sense of humor?

    But still…Jupiter knows his beard is being stroked, and he’s not pretending not to notice. Why does he need to show he notices? He is used to being fawned over all the time. When a woman resists, then he notices!

    But still…you have a point. Ingres is such a great artist, but even he can slip. His aesthetic and mentality were rigid, that’s the problem. Is this one? I’m not sure. Personally, I find it kind of cool. I like that woman! She looks like she’s made of rubber, as do so many of JDI’s erotic/mythologica/haute bourgeois females.

    W. A. Bougereau is one who adopted Ingres’ aesthetic wholesale, and who was equally skilled as a painter, but totally lacked (in my opinion – Tom Wolfe and others would disagree…) Ingres’ passion and intelligence as an artist. The results are, as you say, frequently laughable.

    I love Ingres!

  7. Paul Rumsey

    I love Ingres also. The portraits are amazing, the one of the Queen of Naples with the volcano erupting in the distance is one of my favourite portraits in the history of art.
    It is the expressions I find comic in the Jupiter picture, because he looks so stern, as if he is trying to keep a straight face while she tickles his chin.
    His most rubbery woman is in “Roger Frees Angelica” – her neck looks quite impossible, it is twisted so far back it looks as if she has a goitre.

    In earlier periods of art, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, etc, the language and style create a seperate reality so we don’t question what we see, but I think it is the extreme realism of some 19th century art that can cause a clash between the unreal subject and the realism of the painting. This is when pictures can start to look silly and the more real it looks the less we believe.
    Was Bocklin trying to be funny? I have an old book on him with some very comic pictures, he did one of Roger and Angelica where she looks squeamish at the blood squirting from the dragons neck. In another he paints St Anthony preaching to the fish, with all the little fish heads looking out of the water, and a huge shark at his feet gazing up at him.
    I am sure Bocklin means to be funny some of the time…. but I am not sure when…..

  8. lichanos

    Bocklin is an interesting case. Much of that Symbolist art is on the border between good art and kitsch. The aesthetic and the social context made for an odd sensibility.

    Personally, I never see Ingres as “realistic.” [cf. my post “Realism” is such a slippery word in the history of art. What does it mean really? Croce said, “Only art is supremely real.” Was he stoned?

    “Verisimilitude,” or something like that, I can deal with…

  9. Paul Rumsey

    You are right, “verisimilitude” is a better word.
    And the border between “good art” and “kitsch” is often a matter of taste.
    I know that my taste has changed over the years, and sometimes changed back again!
    In some art like Bocklin there is a lot of random unnecessary detail (like you find in photographs). I wonder if these artists were influenced by photography and included the pointless detail to make the pictures more “real”, while earlier artists would edit out distracting detail for reasons of aesthetics.

  10. jahsonic

    Lichanos, Paul,

    I’ve been following your comments closely thinking of something meaningful to say.

    Paul, you strike a chord with this.

    I wonder if these artists were influenced by photography and included the pointless detail to make the pictures more “real”, while earlier artists would edit out distracting detail for reasons of aesthetics.

    There is a passage in Charles Ivins’s Prints and Visual Communication which mentions this. But even without that book, it is clear to me that the role of photography vis a vis 19th century has been seriously undervalued.

    Lichanos, thanks for pointing me to Ghiberti.

    Bocklin, glad you mention him. I may order a copy of by Prestel, which features Bocklin and his contemporaries, I have a feeling this book is essential in mapping in the history of European derision.

    Was Bocklin trying to be funny? Is anyone who works in the field of derision trying to be funny? Or are they using laughter for other means?

    I also looked up Murat and Naples by Ingres, a very special painting indeed, Ingres is so much out-of-this-world, truly unique then as now. I wonder which eruption that was, I’ll have to look that up.


  11. lichanos

    As an undergrad there was a book I used in my thesis called Some Call It Kitsch by Alexa Celabanovich [?] I think that if you are interested in the “history of derision” this might be a good source. It’s about the late 19th century Academy, or pompier art.

    My personal bible during adolescence, Phillipe Julien’s Dreamers of Decadence also deals with Bocklin, sympatheticly, but critically as I recall.

  12. Paul Rumsey

    – Dreamers of Decadence was my personal bible also! I bought it in 1971, I was 15, I still have it.

  13. jahsonic

    Hurray! Dreamers of Decadence is what brings us together. I discovered Paul via my research on fantastic art and stumbling on his page and finding Philippe Jullian.

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