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Subjects of the Visual Arts: Diana  

The Greek Artemis, or Roman Diana, is the goddess of chastity. She exemplifies and protects virginity, and for married women she models strict avoidance of adultery.

Protectress of the hunt, Diana is pictured amidst her attendant nymphs in a landscape, or resting at a secluded pool. In the latter case, her nymphs lovingly care for her body, removing clothing, drying her after the bath, and generally enacting a considerable degree of physical intimacy. Sometimes voyeuristic Actaeon disrupts them, in which case concerted attempts to hide their nakedness can result in them touching each other in erotic ways.

Diana, guardian of purity, is also pictured fighting Venus, goddess of sex and desire, or with her followers resisting lascivious satyrs. Diana is a militant enforcer of same-sex seclusion amongst women.

One of the most popular tales concerns the nymph Callisto. Jupiter lusted after this devoted member of Diana's band, and he managed to seduce her by taking on the disguise of Diana herself. Callisto thus experienced what she thought was her mistress kissing her "not modestly, nor as a maiden kisses" (Ovid, Metamorphoses 2:401-507; Fasti 2:153-192).

She resisted only after Jupiter went further and embraced her so that she realized the body was masculine. Subsequently raped and pregnant, the ashamed maiden tried to hide her state but was eventually discovered when disrobed at the pool. The pregnancy was taken as a betrayal of the vows of chastity, and Diana angrily expelled Callisto.

Images of the seduction, in prints or as paintings, often depicted two female figures in close contact. For example, the episode decorated a lunette when the cycle of Callisto's myth was chosen in the 1540s for the bathing suite of the French king Francis I. Primaticcio's now-lost wall painting of Callisto being kissed and fondled by "Diana" is recorded in Pierre Milan's contemporary engraving.

Domestic objects and paintings in women's chambers upheld Diana and her all-female associations as exemplary models. Women like queen Christina of Sweden or the seventeenth-century writer Mlle de Scudéry represented themselves as Diana, surrounded by women, loving Callisto. Lower class women branded as "witches" sometimes gathered in Diana's name.

Patricia Simons


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Artemis (Diana) drawing an arrow from her quiver.
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   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Classical Art

Ancient Greek and Roman art represents a variety of homoerotic experience in several different ways.

literature >> Overview:  Classical Mythology

The Greco-Roman myths concerning same-sex love have been of crucial importance to the Western gay and lesbian literary heritage, both as texts and as icons.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Renaissance

The various cultural patterns, especially the conditions of artistic production and the types of subjects and themes represented, provide a great deal of evidence about Renaissance sexuality and art.

arts >> Overview:  Patronage I: The Western World from Ancient Greece until 1900

Patronage--the sponsorship of artists and the commissioning of artistic projects from them--is of central importance to cultural history.

social sciences >> Christina of Sweden

Enigmatic monarch and enthusiastic patron of the arts, Christina of Sweden shocked Europeans by her aversion to marriage, her "mannish" ways, and her love for women, as well as by the abdication of her throne at the age of twenty-seven.


Reid, Jane Davidson. The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300-1990s. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Simons, Patricia. "Lesbian (In)Visibility in Italian Renaissance Culture: Diana and Other Cases of donna con donna." Journal of Homosexuality 27 (1994): 81-122. Reprinted in Gay and Lesbian Studies in Art History. Whitney Davis, ed. New York: Haworth Press, 1994. 81-122.

Traub, Valerie. "The Perversion of 'Lesbian' Desire.'" History Workshop Journal 41 (Spring 1996): 23-49.


    Citation Information
    Author: Simons, Patricia  
    Entry Title: Subjects of the Visual Arts: Diana  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated May 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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