The breast is not just a protruding gland situated on the front of the thorax in female bodies: behind biology lies an intricate symbolism that has taken various and often contradictory meanings. We begin our journey looking at pre-historic artifacts that revered the breast as the ultimate symbol of life; we then transition to the rich iconographical tradition centering on the so-called Virgo Lactans when the breast became a metaphor of nourishment for the entire Christian community. Next, we look at how artists have eroticized the breast in portraits of fifteenth-century French courtesans and how enlightenment philosophers and revolutionary events have transformed it into a symbol of the national community. Lastly, we analyze how contemporary society has medicalized the breast through cosmetic surgery and discourses around breast cancer, and has objectified it by making the breast a constant presence in advertisement and magazine covers. Through twenty-five centuries of representations, I will talk about how the breast has been coded as both "good" and "bad," sacred and erotic, life-giving and life-destroying.
Biography: Benedetta Gennaro is currently a researcher in the Institut für Soziologie at TU Darmstadt. She was an acting professor of Sociology at Goethe Universität in Frankfurt and since 2011 she has been affiliated with the Cornelia Goethe Centrum for Women’s and Gender Studies. She received an M.A. in Mass Communications from Miami University (Oxford, OH) and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Italian Studies from Brown University (Providence, RI). Her areas of research include gender and sexuality studies, cultural studies and visual methodologies, women and political violence, masculinity studies, and feminist methodologies.