cover image Monuments & Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form

Monuments & Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form

Marina Warner. Atheneum Books, $25 (417pp) ISBN 978-0-689-11645-2

Examining an impressive scope of materialart (Donatello, Vermeer, Judy Chicago), Greek mythology, the Bible, literature, linguistics and mass mediaWarner (Alone of All Her Sex) traces the different meanings which have been ascribed to the female form throughout the ages. ""Liberty is not represented by a woman because women were and are free''; allegory by definition requires a gap (and a resemblance) between the ideal and the real. But there is a give-and-take of meaning between the female fantasy figuresAthena, Wisdom, Temperance, et al.and actual women. Warner suggests that some women (the armed maidens of Justice and Chastity, etc.) may take on male personas (the brandished weapons) to best shield themselves from the masculine code. Pandora, the first woman of classical myth, and Eve, the mother in the Judeo-Christian story, bear the burden of men's dreams: made and named by others, agents of calamity through the desire they inspire but do not experience themselves. Unlike men, women lose their individuality as they become universal symbols, and the only way to rid the female form of contaminated meanings is ``to respect the individual inside the symbol''to look through the Statue of Liberty's eyes to see that she can represent freedom only if we were to forget the female condition. The difficulty with this sometimes brilliant study is that, like the history it examines, it never comes to rest with an unchanging definition. Illustrated. November 25