England’s not a country of lots of famous painters; I mean they’re not as famous as the Italians of the Renaissance, or the Baroque artists from Flanders and Holland, or the French impressionists (among others).  At least they’re not as famous as Da Vinci, Rubens, Rembrandt, Gauguin, Picasso or Dali.

But there was a typically English current of the art that flourished during the Victorian epoch (in the 19th century); it was in the middle of the effervescent capitalism of the industrial revolution.  It was the pre-Raphaelesque current.

The portraits by Rossetti, Hunt, Millais, Morris and others don’t stand out for their focus on social contradictions (although some carry traces of these).  Actually they’re just the opposite: the majority of them are portraits of people, real or legendary or contemporaries of their artists or not.

Many of those works are tremendously beautiful.  But for me there’s a very intensely significant detail: It’s the way pre-Rafaelists conceive of the image of women.

If we take a good look at the Venus Verticordia, the several Ophelias, Proserpina or the Lady of Shalott — works of these types and other pre-Rafaelesque paintings — what most impresses are the alienated, carnivorous and depersonalized faces of the women that appear in these.  Their facial expressions are expressive in effect, but there’s no affection in them.

It’s as if the muscles of their faces were moved with precision by small steam engines until accurately achieving the desired external configuration.  Beauty? – yes; but with feelings specifically modulated by a rigidity of the aesthetic design.

These have nothing that to do with the women of the Renaissance by the impressionists, or with the Russian peredvizhniki.   They contain a pure dense message of beauty condensed on surfaces that cover desirable bodies, but these are where desire ends exactly with the body.  Nec plus ultra: nothing beyond.

This is what I see walking around Havana or riding on the bus through the surroundings of our capital.  I notice girls from between 13 and 25.  Almost all of them have intensely colored lips, clothes adapted to corporeal desires, eyes elaborately delineated, and some flaunt their piercings and/or tattoos.  They’re all very beautiful: pretty girls.

It’s only that something’s lacking.  I know it’s there, but the prevailing feminine youth aesthetic in a country in full transition is focused on surface beauty.   Nec plus ultra: nothing beyond.

I wonder: Is there some sort of affinity with the traumatic experiences of the industrial revolution in England?

In my heart a rejection is born.  Not of the girls or of their beauty, but of the new social codes that cause their souls to be engulfed by operationally and effectively carnivorous decisions.  Instead of amputation (Orwell), their souls become the objects of aesthetic cannibalism.  I hate it.  It’s the pre-Rafaelesque beauty of young Cuban women.

 


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

4 thoughts on “The Pre-Rafaelesque Beauty of Young Cuban Women

  • I’m 38, not 40, just like Daina Chaviano in 1998, and… -the bad news- I could write right the same about the young Cuban males –those: the majority (snif!)- who didn’t escape the consumerist cultural construction memes…-.
    Anyway, thanks, Michael, for your so smart and critical a comment! I feel really sorry for being so sexist.

  • Daina Chaviano was twenty in 1980. She is a novelist and short story writer. You are a forty year old man observing women (13 to 25), and complaining about them ALL. What they want has robbed them of their inner beauty, like a Meth habit or heroin. Women ought to want the things that you admire, and act the way YOU think they should. Then they would be pretty on the outside and the inside. That is the sexist part. You know what is best for ALL women. You are an intellectual and smart… they are sheep and have been robbed of their souls by “the new social codes.”

    Men and boys have escaped these soul robbing fashion memes.

  • Michael: I am obviously not a 40 years old WOMAN, but if such a woman writes something like what you suggests about young Cuban men and boys, I (and I’m supposed to be a Cuban intellectual) will not see in such a writing any problem at all. I am completely open to such aesthetical opinions… I do not think that having a definite sexual orientation makes a person SEXIST. In fact, I think that my pre-Raphaelite point can be expanded to include male Cubans, but it happens that my book on pre-Raphaelites depicts more female faces… Or I am biased about this point as well?
    By the way, maybe you could find a text by Cuban female author Daina Chaviano about the beauty of Cuban BOYS aged 15-25 in Havana during the eighties… I really liked that piece, but don’t know if it’s available in English over the web…

  • What an amazingly self-deluded article. Sexism to the max. Here is a 40 year old man who is “noticing” women from 13 to 25. He finds them superficial. He thinks, “…their souls (have) become the objects of aesthetic cannibalism.” What hogwash! I ask you what would Cuban intellectuals think about an article written by a 40 year old WOMAN, who “noticed” men (and boys) from 13 to 25 riding the buses and walking around the city, and who made the same complaints about their souls?

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