Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Carmela Bertagna- John Singer Sargent's Model and Muse

John Singer Sargent's muse, Carmela Bertagna. She's very beautiful and an extraordinary model in her own right.

Here's an essay on the girl dancer and model Carmela Bertagna

Carmela Bertagna, a Spanish-Parisian model who modelled for painter John Singer Sargent. Very little is known about her life, except that she lived with her mother and brother. Her father is unknown. She and her family had to work in order to make ends meet for themselves. She is of Spanish descent and modelled with various artists, including John Singer Sargent. Her Mediterranean Latin looks fascinated Sargent, who was captivated by magnificent Rosina Ferrara of Capri a year earlier.

Carmela Bertagna posed as a young girl begging for alms for John Singer Sargent's painting, "A Parisian Beggar Girl", where she sported unkempt hair semi covered with a veil and wore a stark white gown trimmed in black. She leaned against a very stark white wall, a prop which Sargent used in his later pictures, most notably, "Fumee d"Amberigis," a famous picture in which Sargent placed a magnificently dressed Arab woman against a stark white wall. Carmela also posed for the self-titled picture in which she was dressed in her native peasant costume accentuated with a long, pink, furry-like shawl. Her stare according to some people is like that of a predator, namely a wolf. Bizet contemptuously described Carmen as having eyes like that of a wolf. I'm disturbed about the description. The description implicates that certain groups of women have "animal-like" personalities. It goes back to the ancient stereotyping of women as wicked temptresses who led men astray. The stereotype of a Spanish temptress was the theme of George Bizet's Carmen, a play that shocked conservative middle class audiences when it first performed in 1875. Carmela sports a red ribbon in her hair, which was typical of most Mediterranean women of the late 19th century.

Famous R&B singer Faith Evans have a vague resemblance to Carmela. She is also of Mediterranean ancestry in her multi ethnic makeup and is very ethnic in appearance. Faith's father, Richard Swain, is of Italian Ancestry. Her mother is African American. So is the opera singer Julia Migenes. As a matter of fact, she resembles her in some of her pictures on the internet. Ms. Migenes is of Greek, Irish-Puerto Rican descent and was known for her starring role in the 1984 opera movie, Carmen. She played the title character. Carmela Bertagna wouldn't look out of place in Bizet's Carmen: She's similar the Carmen character: Sultry, seductive, and independent.

In the 19th century ultra-conservative Catholic Spanish society, Gypsies, Middle Easterners, Jews, and poor people are regarded as menaces to the respectable, law- abiding people. It is the same in the 21st Century with us Americans, particularly conservatives and most liberals(a.k.a. SWPL) stereotype and demean certain groups of people to be outsiders: unpopular racial minorities such as blacks, immigrant groups such as Latinos, the underclass and poor of all races and ethnicity, prisoners(The U.S. has the largest prison industrial complex of all the industrial nations), gays, feminists(think Rush Limbaugh's contempt for them), and so on. With welfare reform initiated by Clinton back in 1997, we are seeing plenty poor/working class women, especially Women of Color, struggling to put food and other necessities for their families as well as working at low quality jobs in the future decades. Also, Proposition 187 initiated by Pete Wilson as well as the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996 tend to punish immigrants of color as well as poor and working class Americans by telling them that they cannot use taxpayers' funds to help ease their way into the mainstream, that means not using public assistance nor attending public schools like other people. We Americans stereotype Black, Latina, and Native American women as "baby mamas", "welfare queens", and "loose women."  It was the same in France back in the late 19th Century when the French agonized over the Arrivals of Italian and Spanish migrants as well as Roma(formerly known as "Gypsies").

The Carmela picture tells us about the demographics of French society in the late 19th Century. When you look at the picture, remember her as an innocent young girl caught up in circumstances beyond her control, not to condemn her as an outcast or a "tramp."

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