Sunday, September 22, 2013

Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, "The Monster"

Wow, and I thought fat kids today got bullied.  At least they aren't put on display for the amusement of rich people in power like Eugenia Martínez Vallejo was in 1680's Spain.  Today in the United States, fat kids have Michelle Obama nagging them with her "Let's Move" campaign, but at least she doesn't invite them to the White House to entertain Sasha and Malia like a freak and nickname them "The Monster."

Eugenia Martinez Vallejo. Carrena
"Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, 'The Monster', dressed", 1680
Juan Carreño de Miranda via Wikimedia Commons

From Museo Nacional del Prado:

This work is an example of the Baroque taste for representations of freaks of nature and the attraction of people with some of physical or psychological anomaly. Here it takes the form of a depiction of a girl of extraordinary size, probably due to a hormonal imbalance. Eugenia Martínez was taken to the court in 1680 and her portrait was painted there by Juan Carreño at the direct order of King Carlos II.

The painter depicted her dressed, but also nude, in a companion painting (P2800). In the present work, her deformity is emphasized by the magnificent flowered red dress that drapes over the huge size of her girl's body. Its color makes the nudity of the companion work all the more explicit. The placement of the model over a neutral background follows the tradition of Spanish court portraiture.

La monstrua desnuda (1680), de Juan Carreño de Miranda.
"'The Monster', Nude, or Bacchus", 1680
Juan Carreño de Miranda via Wikimedia Commons


A portrait of Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, nude and adorned with grape leaves and grape clusters, making this an allusion to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. 

In 1680, this girl was taken to the court to be exhibited because of her extraordinary proportions. Far from its current negative connotations, this must be understood in terms of the taste for freaks of nature passed down from the sixteenth century and still present in the seventeenth, when buffoons and different entertaining personages lived at the Palace in order to amuse the Monarchs and their children. 

I wish that modern-day rich, powerful people like Michelle Obama would realize that by promoting campaigns to "end childhood obesity" you're telling fat kids that they are freaks who don't fit into your narrow definition of what a child should look like.  Fat kids have been around much longer than TV and video games and Twinkies and McDonald's.  Fat kids are nothing new.  What's new is the idea that individuals deserve to be treated with respect and love.  We no longer bring fat kids to court for our amusement.  But we still make them feel like a joke.  We can't say that our goal is to "end" childhood obesity without fat kids feeling like we want to eradicate them.