Annual Art History Symposium Celebrates Women

On Thursday, April 5, the Art History Alliance held their annual Art History Symposium. This event focused on the roles of women and feminism in art history, and featured two vastly different guest speakers to showcase the breadth and depth of women’s roles throughout time.

These two speakers wove together the art of the ancient past with that of the recent past, starting with ancient Greek works and ending with Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comics, demonstrating the multitude of roles women take on. 

The first speaker was Professor Anthony Mangieri, PhD., who teaches at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. Professor Mangieri’s work focuses on classical art, primarily women in mythology. His lecture, entitled “Women, Agency and the Trojan Horse” emphasized the importance of virgin sacrifice as a theme of ancient Greek art. 

Mangieri’s research shows that although sacrificing virgins is undoubtedly a horrific act, depictions of such events in ancient art could also depict pride or admiration for the sacrificed women. He focused on two particular examples: the stories of Iphigeneia and Polyxena, both sacrificed virgins of Troy. 

Mangieri explained that, although the portrayal of violence against women is unsavory, to say the least, occasionally these depictions were meant to be flattering. Unsurprisingly, Mangieri informed the audience that depictions of the moment of slaughter were the most popular and well known.

“When a virgin is sacrificed in Ancient Greek art, she is appropriating the masculine death of the warrior,” said Mangieri. “Occasionally, these depictions were meant to show the virginal woman as noble. She is giving up her life for her family, for her city.” 

This was an interesting and new take on old school violence against women, but Mangieri has done far more research on the topic than I, so I’ll keep it nuanced. 

Dr. Mangieri was followed by Dr. Catherine Zipf, also a faculty member at Salve Regina University. Dr. Zipf is an architectural historian whose presentation focused on the role of Lucy’s Psychiatric Help Booth in the Peanuts Cartoons of the 1960s and ‘70s. Zipf was led to this research by a call for papers, and also because “[her] research on Mary Tyler Moore was rejected.”

Zipf showed the audience the prominence of Lucy’s booth in Peanuts cartoons, primarily during the ‘60s. During a time of abrupt and important social changes, Schultz peddled messages of gender inclusivity through Lucy. 

 “With Lucy’s booth, Schultz pushed back against the barriers of the time, women weren’t often psychiatrists then, but Lucy’s booth allows her to be,” said Zipf. “The booth inverts gender roles and gendered spaces.”

Lucy’s booth gives her power over male Peanuts characters, who become her patients, confiding in her about their problems and paying her. This space allows her to become an entrepreneur, to support herself, as well as placing her in a position of power. Lucy is the only character with her own space in the cartoon. Throughout the production of the Peanuts comics, Schultz gives no character more agency than Lucy. 

Schultz crafts a delightful feminist character in Lucy, one accessible in newspapers across the country at a time when she was sorely needed. Lucy is a fantastic representation of girl power and art colliding, and Zipf’s research and lecture shows it well. 

All in all, this was another successful symposium for the Art History Association. The two speakers wove together past and present, with refreshing takes on the vast and differing roles of women in art history. From virgin sacrifice to cartoons of children, women play an important role in art, and their varying representations reflect an ever-changing world.