"Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus" by Peter Paul Rubens

Museums Get Away With Murder
By Joan Altabe

Once again, research shows a connection between watching television and warring tendencies. And again, museums get away with murder.

Columbia University professor Jeffrey Johnson and the New York Psychiatric Institute, studying 700 New Yorkers over 17 years, found that when young teens watch television for more than one hour a day, they are liable to become violent adults. Apparently TV fare gives couch potatoes a capacity for cruelty.

Somebody ought to look into museum fare. If parents think to send their kids off to fine art shows to spell them from TV images of sleaze and slaughter, they ought to consider these exhibit examples and the things art experts say about them.

"Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus" by Peter Paul Rubens shows two unclothed females forcibly taken by a pair of burly young men on horseback. Kerry Downes, a British authority on Rubens, has said that "romance, not, violence, is the keynote," as if the painting were a pastoral and these women weren't struggling against abduction. Downes, oblivious to the fever pitch of the crime scene, compared it to a "free-standing sculpture, isolated in space by the low horizon and distant landscape, and touching the ground only at a few points of balance." One of those points of balance, by the way, is an arm of a woman reaching for the ground as she's being yanked upward. You can almost hear a full-throated scream coming from her. Apparently, Downes has been looking at the Rubens so long that he's become inured to the rising panic of the women and the fever pitch of their attackers.

"Jupiter and Io" by Corregio

"Jupiter and Io" by Corregio shows another accosted and nude female, this time raped by a god disguised in the form of a dark and menacing cloud. Corregio expert Frederick Hartt has described it this way: "The image is so frank, so open, so direct, so real, that it cannot conceivably be classed as pornography."

Evidently, if a rape is committed out in the open, it's a forthright exchange and not a rape at all.

Noted art historian, Kenneth Clark has said of "Jupiter and Antiope," another rape painting by Corregio (quite a guy, this Corregio), "As our eyes follow every undulation, it passes refreshed from shade to light." Like Downes, Clark doesn't recognize that a rape is taking place.

Neither does art historian Anthony Janson who has written of Jan Steen's "Rape of the Sabine Women"—a pictorial of smirking attackers tearing women from their loved onesthat the artist "explored human folly with endless good humor." Janson also used terms such as "peasant revel" and "ebullient action" to characterize the assault.

Then there's Cezanne's thick, dark, crude-stroked paintings of bloody stabbings, stranglings, rape and other cruelties. Describing the tortured scenes, art aficianado Robert Simon used words like "idiosyncratic commingling" and "esthetic density." He also excused scenes of cannibalism and decapitation by painter Theodore Gericault, by blaming the "virulent social anxieties of the Second Empire." (In short, the devil made him do it).

In a similar way, art expert Edwin Mullins excused Hieronymus Bosch's violent depictions in "The Hay Wagon," which shows a woman, her arms tied behind her back, lying on her back nude except for a black toad perched on her genitals. Mullins said Bosch painted it at a time when Roman Catholic misogyny was at its most hysterical. (Feel better?) Apparently it's OK to be goatish and foul, as long as you call it art.

"The Menaced Assassin" by Rene Magritte

Which makes you wonder what these experts would say about Rene Magritte's "The Menaced Assassin" at New York's Museum of Modern Art. It isn't so much the sight of a nude female spread-eagled on a table while six fully clothed males stand aroundone with a clubalthough that's bad enough. It's that the picture parts are rendered like items in an illustrated dictionary: so dully, so ho-hum, that it denies the reality.

None of this is to say that horrific images seen in museums prompt horrific acts. Neither is this asking for censorship of these images. But showing them without sensitivity to the subject matter can send the wrong messageprovided anyone is around to listen, that is. If teens ever get wind of high art, start checking minivans for gun racks.