One of the reasons that I enjoy this journey so much occurred this morning, when I found a statue by an artist I have already written about that then led me to a new topic. In this instance, the statue was by the African American sculptor, Augusta Savage and the statue was this one:
The reason I was so drawn to this was the way in which her posture cries out to you that this is a woman who is weary, whose whole body is being pulled towards the ground. But why? Is she worn down by the trials of her life? Melancholy drips off her. But what intrigued me the most is the fact that her face is hidden from view. She cannot lift her head up and the averted gaze seems intentional.
For most of us, crying is a personal event, one that you do not want others to see, and the angle of her head makes me think that she is hiding her face on purpose; we cannot see her cry because she does not wish to let us in. Her weight is all on her arm; the slim arm barely holding her up and allowing her to keep her tears to herself.
This made me wonder about other sculptures depicting this ‘hidden gaze’…and I found a few:
This 1903 sculpture by Catalan sculptor, Josep Llimona i Bruguera was formed out of the symbolist movement that Llimona was a member of at the start of the twentieth century. Llimona’s wife had died two years earlier and the closed contours of the form, coupled with the face hidden from view by the veil of hair and the clasped hands depict the despair of grief.
The following year, another Catalan sculptor produced Eve. Like Llimona, Enric Clarasó i Daudí concentrated on the way in which the body holds onto itself when feeling overwhelmed with loneliness, grief and sadness. The use of the nude here does not lend itself to erotica, but to revealing the raw emotion that we experience when we are at our lowest.
Finally, perhaps the most famous of these is Rodin’s La Danaide:
The original idea was to include this in the Door of Hell, but chose not to include it. The Musee Rodin in Paris:
On a mythological theme – the Danaos girls, the Danaides, are condemned to fill eternally a bottomless jar, for killing their young husbands on the night of their wedding – Rodin built above all a female landscape, highlighting the line of the back and neck of the Danaid.
He chooses not, as in traditional iconography, the moment of filling but that of despair before the sterility and inanity of the task. Exhausted, the Danaid rests her head “like a great sob” on her arm. Her hair, which Rainer Maria Rilke used to say “liquid,” merges with the water flowing from her jar. Her body is polished like ivory, while the block of marble from which it seems to emerge is carved much more summarily, keeping track of the tools.
The phrase “like a great sob” resonates throughout these works. Whatever the cause of sorrow, it is natural to give in to the feeling it creates, and these sculptors released that expression of feeling with these incredible works.