Picturing the Androgyne

  • Marian Rothstein


Although words are the obvious medium for exploring, developing, or making manifest the powers of the androgyne, still, alongside a broad river of verbal uses, there is a small stream of visual images available to add to our understanding of the reception of the idea at the center of this study. Given the nature of the androgyne’s sources, explicit visual renderings of this state of human plenitude are hardly to be expected: the Adam of Genesis 1 is largely to be understood as spiritual, hence immaterial, and the marriage androgyne of Genesis 2 likewise aims primarily at conveying a spiritual rather than a physical combination. Any attempt to depict Plato’s Androgyne would run the risk of lapsing into the grotesque, which was only a small part of Plato’s intention. In spite of such impediments, there is in fact a range of images of the androgyne to be found at various points during the millennium to the sixteenth century. What they tell us about the androgyne is mostly what we already know, but they are nevertheless worth pausing over, as they document indirectly its reception by viewers over time and space and at various points on the cultural, economic, social, and educational spectrum.


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  1. 6.
    Thomas Mathews, “Christ Chameleon,” chap. 5 in The Clash of the Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 115–41.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  3. 18.
    Alain Boureau, Le Simple corps du roi (Paris: Éditions de Paris, 1988), p.53.Google Scholar
  4. 23.
    Carolyn Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p.302. She returns to it in Fragmentation, reproducing the image, and explains in the caption that in an “evocation of the theme of Jesusas-mother [it] shows a sweet-faced Christ offering the wound in his side with the lifting gesture so often used by the Virgin in offering her breast” (p.101, fig. 3.10). The same volume reprints Bynum’s article-length reply to Steinberg, originally published as “The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages: A Reply to Leo Steinberg” Renaissance Quarterly 39, no.3 (Autumn 1986): 399–43. The second edition of Steinberg’s book contains his response to her “Reply”; both are working from starting positions that seem to preclude common ground.Google Scholar

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© Marian Rothstein 2015

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  • Marian Rothstein

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