Friday, April 8, 2011

Wave 'em like you just don't care

In this post I would like to trace a series of associations which has led me to realize that for some time now, I have been unconsciously intrigued by women's arms.  It has come up in a number of posts without me actually giving it much heed.  It was only after writing my last post on the Marianne, including a reference to John Ashcroft's alledged uneasiness over giving press conferences before a topless woman called the Spirit of Justice, that I saw that I had been half-consciously developing a theme.

This is Ashcroft before the Spirit of Justice.  She is half of a pair; on the other side of the podium is a masculine figure called the Majesty of Law.  I can't find a good shot of him, but he appears to be holding a torch (torch-bearer!) with only one arm elevated.   The Jefferson Madison Center of Liberty has a photo of this "divine couple" here.  They also show a detail of the base:  it appears as though the woman, apparently nicknamed "Minnie Lou" is standing on clouds.  Two blank tablets, like the traditional image of the Ten Commandments, hide her left leg.  (The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was famously depicted in art on similar tablets--a new covenant indeed).  Emblems are affixed to the clouds, a sun perhaps, or a star.  The sun and the moon, perhaps.

The statue is 12.5 feet of cast aluminium, unveiled in 1933.  It is one of many works by C. Paul Jennewein to adorn the DOJ building.  Jennewein produced quite a bit of architectural sculpture and worked on several public monuments.  His style is rooted in classicism but these works reflect the Art Deco style.  (Jennewein was a noted practitioner of this fusion, called "Greco Deco").

Why her arms are raised, I cannot say.

Tanit votive stela, 2nd c BCE, Algeria.  Now in the Louvre, LoS photo.

From The hand is the whole:

"Tanit was symbolized by an ankh-like glyph with a triangular base surmounted by a bar and circle.  This in turn was surmounted by a symbol representing a crescent moon which also evokes the eye.  In the standard work on the symbol, F.O. Hvidberg-Hansen interprets this symbol as a woman raising her hands."

I was looking through this old post for a correlation with another post I've yet to write, when this passage jumped out at me.  I'd just finished the Marianne post and was struck by the repeated occurrence of an image of a woman raising her hands.  Unfortunately, I find no link with Tanit and Justice.  All the other goddesses associated with Tanit are fertility figures.  Tanit was a lunar goddess, patron of Carthage and a goddess of war, fertility and also, a virginal mother goddess.  She is probably a variation on the Ugaritic (Syrian) goddess Anat.  She has a storied history but again, not much to do with justice.  Her virginity is emphasized and she sometimes bears the title "Queen of Heaven".

National Black Theater (NBT)
I had already mentioned Tanit in connection to the above sculpture and the orant posture of prayer, which some interpret as a surrender to higher powers.  Unfortunately for our train of thought here, the NBT figure is male.  But the orant may help us sidestep that.  Unbeknownst to me at the time is that there is a is a specifically female version of the posture called orante, or orans:

The custom of praying in antiquity with outstretched, raised arms was common to both Jews and Gentiles, and indeed the iconographic type of the Orans was itself strongly influenced by classic [not to mention Egyptian] representations.

... the great majority of the figures are female, even when depicted on the tombs of men. One of the most convincing proofs that the Orans was regarded as a symbol of the soul is an ancient lead medal in the Vatican Museum showing the martyr, St. Lawrence, under torture, while his soul, in the form of a female Orans, is just leaving the body....The Acts of St. Cecilia speaks of souls leaving the body in the form of virgins.

In my article on the National Black Theater I emphasized the spiritual mission of that organization.  The satue of a man in prayer-like position before the sun and triangle, a symbol of divinity, reinforces that message.  The theme of virginity is also noted, but to what end I'm not sure.

The Sailor's Wife, Lloret del Mar.  LoS photo.

As I wrote in an earlier post (♀: Matter and Spirit, or Venus' hand mirror....):

Depictions of Venus Anadyomene also have her doing things with her arms:  wringing her hair, strategically placed for modesty or splayed out in erotic invitation.  I have thought long about the Venus of Lloret.  Her arms are like the Pisces fish or a yin and yang.  One is held up as if shielding the eyes, scanning the horizon, a covering, protective gesture; the other seeming to beckon a distant viewer.  They both shield and invite.  Modest yet alluring.

I had forgotten this post when I began my musings on this theme and had looked at all of the previous four images and posts before I recalled it.  But there it is.  I'm already wondering about arm gestures.  I'm still not sure what the Sailor's Wife here is up to....

The gesture I describe appears to me to have a spiritual significance:  a gesture of praise, supplication or communion.  I think it also has an erotic aspect which to be quite frank, is never far from sacred art or the act of prayer itself.  In my mind anyway!

This erotic aspect may come from other uses of the raised arms.  When angry or insecure, a person tends to cross their arms in a kind of symbolic barrier.  It is literally a closed figure.  The raised arms, on the other hand, are quite the opposite, the body is left exposed, vulnerable.  A woman's breasts are lifted, accentuated.  Raised arms are a gesture of surrender.  They are also waved about to attract attention, to bring someone nearer.   All these are definitely sexier than the closed door of crossed arms!  I also though of the Masonic distress signal, or "grand hailing sign of distress."  This gesture is also a variation on raised arms (Google it).

This is probably stretching the point but isn't distress a kind of erotic situation?  Damsel in distress and what not?  But Masons are men so this isn't so fitting.  I just threw that in for good measure because it came to mind.

Anyway, I don't have much more to say on the idea of raised arms at this point.  Just something that caught my eye.


  1. More on raising arms here :

    ps : i thought I posted that before...

  2. Quite thorough! Interesting current is how the Christian writers distance themselves from pagan antecedents....oh no, nothing borrowed from them!

  3. Re: PS

    I've just seen that yer first post was treated as spam for some reason. This happens now that I use the verification thingy but oddly, a spam comment just got thru yesterday. Maddening: block the legit, let the spambots roll...

  4. A lot of those Lady Justices are rather sexy! Lady Gaga on the other hand, is merely ridiculous. An opinion of course, but I find her music and image terribly un-sexy.


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