SHADY LADIES MFA TOUR
For two years, Shady Ladies has been setting New York ablaze with its tours of the Metropolitan Museum, telling people the fascinating backstories that bring the museum to life—especially stories of women and their struggle for power. Now it comes to Boston to show you a whole new side of the MFA!
We all know Boston’s reputation as a puritan, stuffy city. So I guess you would expect the Museum of Fine Arts to be a conservative museum. But somehow, the MFA never got the memo. Instead, its collection is a treasure trove of great art works on some of the most subversive themes, especially sexuality and women’s issues.
Shady Ladies Tours is coming to Boston to let you in on the art museum’s secrets. For two years, Shady Ladies has been setting New York ablaze with its tours of the Metropolitan Museum, telling people the fascinating backstories that bring the museum to life. Now it comes to Boston to show you a whole new side of the MFA—the women’s side!
On this tour you’ll see ancient Greek women, from goddesses to courtesans, a Roman priestess, and some ancient murderesses as well. There is as a bust of Cleopatra (the original femme fatale), plus some fascinating possessions of Marie Antoinette (a woman who reached for the stars and lost her head). And from the 18th century onwards, portraits that show women who broke barriers, smashed stereotypes and generally behaved in a way that some thuggish types might describe as “nasty.”
Shady Ladies tours are different from standard museum tours. We focus on the gripping stories that other tours ignore—while also paying due respect to those serious formal questions that make up the history of art. Once you’ve toured the MFA with us, you’ll see art—and women’s history—in a whole new light. Book your tour today, and learn just how fresh and exciting an art museum can be!
Athenian mixing bowl (krater) with the killing of Agamemnon, Dokimasia Painter, ca. 460 BC
Ancient Greece was a very oppressive society for women, and the psychological results were similar to those in other oppressive societies: the Greeks were terrified of women. This is why most of the monsters in Greek mythology are women. Tragedy is full of terrifying women as well, women who strike you in the privacy of the home by violating the limited but fundamental roles that have been left to them. Medea kills her children, and as seen here, Clytemnestra actually wields an axe to help her lover kill her husband in the privacy of his bath.
Bronze bust of Cleopatra by Antico (Pier Iacobo Alari Bonacolsi) ca. 1520 AD
This bronze is identified as Cleopatra by the diadem she wears and the asp on the foot. Isabella D’Este, one of the great powerhouses of Renaissance Italy—as diplomat, art patron, and fashion trendsetter—had a bust of Cleopatra in her study, and it seems likely that this is it, given that the Gonzagas (her husband’s family) were Antico’s main patrons. If so, this is a fascinating piece. It is rare that we see a powerful woman in history looking back to an earlier powerful women as a role model, but that seems likely to be this bust’s raison d’être.
Mary Cassatt, In a Loge, 1878
Like most of Cassatt’s paintings, this one focuses on a woman. The painting seems to enact a struggle over controlling the gaze. The woman is watching a performance through her opera glasses without any hint of interest in other theater-goers. Her closed fan seems to betoken a lack of interest in flirtation. The only other figure of interest in the painting is a man who has twisted himself toward her and leant out of his loge to stare at her through his opera glasses. He does not, however, succeed in catching her attention, which is fixed—perhaps, by implication, on things of the mind, rather than interactions with men.
John Singleton Copley, Mercy Otis Warren, ca. 1763
Some paintings make clear that the woman portrayed is a pathbreaker. Others conceal it. Some are ambiguous. Mercy Otis was in fact a very unusual woman for her time. She was a patriotic propaganda writer. She wrote poems, plays, essays, and a 3 volume history of the Revolution—some published under her own name. Copley has portrayed her, however, mainly as an elegant lady. The satin and lace of her dress is the focus of his painterly attention, and she is portrayed caressing nasturtiums, rather than books. Her set mouth and her forthright gaze somewhat undercut the painting’s elegance, however: this seems to be the face of a person who cares more about her opinions than her dresses.