Opening the body of fluids: Taking in and pouring out in Renaissance readings of Classical women

King, Helen (2021). Opening the body of fluids: Taking in and pouring out in Renaissance readings of Classical women. In: Bradley, Mark; Leonard, Victoria and Totelin, Laurence eds. Bodily Fluids in Antiquity. London: Routledge, pp. 381–398.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429438974

URL: https://www.routledge.com/Bodily-Fluids-in-Antiqui...

Abstract

This chapter moves from the control of bodily fluids in women to their movement around the body and to the external world. It concentrates on a pair of sixteenth-century images, Mantegna’s ‘Two exemplary women of antiquity’, one of which shows Tuccia’s virginal ability to carry water in a sieve. To contextualise this, the chapter explores the locations of images of Tuccia in early modern women’s spaces as well as the interfaces between medicine and art and between the Renaissance and the classical. In particular, it considers the ‘sieve portraits’ of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, in order to decide whether Tuccia’s sieve is a strainer retaining the good while letting the bad out, or refining the contents to improve them. This means understanding not only the fluids, but also the organs which move them around the body. To what extent do the ancient and the Renaissance Tuccia offer a paradigm for the bodily integrity of the virgin in contrast to the openness and unpredictable flows of the mature woman? Does the virginal sieve relate more to the womb or to the bladder, bearing in mind the role of urination in virginity tests and the issues of the wider control of fluids in the female body? By exploring this case-study from sixteenth-century England, this chapter offers a concluding perspective on the transmission and appropriation of classical ideas in early modern Europe, and draws together a number of key themes in the volume: gender and fluidity; the permeation of boundaries; classification of fluids and fluid classification; the interface between literary and visual representations; age and decay; excretion and regeneration.

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