The Swedish physician and botanist Carolus Linnaeus ( 1707-78) made the breast the formost identifying feature of the class of animals previously called “Quadrupeds”, when he renamed them as “MAMMALIA” in 1752. (from the Latin mammae, milk-secreting organs)
If it hadn’t been for the eighteenth-century European (male) fixation on female breasts ( wet nursing / breast feeding ) we might not have been called “Mammals” today…
Saint Agatha of Sicily was a 3rd century Virgin-Martyr, allegedly tortured for being a Christian and for refusing marriage proposals from Roman prefect Quintianus.
One of the tortures was cutting off her breasts.
She is the patron saint of breast cancer patients and wet nurses.
Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran ( 1598-1664) was one of the many painters who depicted Agatha with her breasts on a plate.
I juxtaposed his painting with this amazing modern interpretation ( “her earthly life” byNoah Massey 2008) where Agatha is sewing her breasts back on !!!
I love “BREASTS”, a children’s book on breasts by Genichiro Yagyu ( 1999)
On this page the male breast is explained.
I note that about 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year! The disease is possbibly more aggresive than female breast cancer,
although this may be due to later diagnosis.
I found this early 20th Century silver votive plate in an old antique shop in Athens. The tradition of votive offerings goes back to ancient times, when worshippers would leave depictions of the human body as votive offerings in a temple or sanctuary, hoping for a cure or as thanks for one.
I try to picture the woman who offered this hand made plate to her favourite saint. The breasts slightly differ in size and shape, making the depiction more real and intimate than factory produced votives – an interesting analogy for the ‘perfect’ body image currently conveyed through the media opposed to the naturally occurring diversity of body shapes and appearances.
Now it’s my turn to express my gratitude, not to a deity but to the NHS, the Breast Cancer Haven and all my friends, for the life affirming support and treatment received after being diagnosed with breast cancer (2009).
And through sharing this object, I extend the votive offering tradition into the secular realm and hope to connect all women in their quests for acceptance & healing.
My breasts reside in a box, cast in bronze, memory of what was…
July 2009, a few days before my single mastectomy (no reconstruction) I panicked at the idea of losing my boobs, and convinced my father in law ( an artist) to make a plaster cast, which he later used to make a bronze bust. After years in the bottom of my clothes cupboard, my friend Thomas organised an old wooden gramophone box for the bust to be mounted in…my personal portable museum…
But before long
Weighed in warm hands
Lost in passion
For the first time
To the greedy demands
Of newborn lips
Invaded and disposed off
With a lobsided
Anna Versteeg London 2010
This drawing by Louise Bourgeois reminds me of the drain curled up under the skin of my chest after the mastectomy…drip, drip, drip…the notebook next to my bed was full of these spiral diagrams, trying to visualise and understand what was happening inside…