Digital Transgender Archive

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II Femminiello

"This recently-discovered painting from eighteenth-century Naples is a testament to the city's exceptional social acceptance of local transvestites known as femminielli. The term, which might be translated "little female-men," is not derogatory, but rather an expression of endearment. Femminielli come from the Spanish Quarter, the most impoverished neighborhood of the city, as is evidenced by this individual's missing tooth and goitre, a hereditary condition among the poor. Although femminielli cross-dress from an early age, they do not try to conceal their birth sex completely. Rather than being stigmatized, they are deemed special and are accepted as almost a third sex. In particular, femminielli are thought to bring good luck, so Neapolitans often take them gambling. This association is represented by the necklace of red coral, which is also thought to bring good fortune. Neapolitan genre paintings frequently feature a grinning figure to engage the viewer. Here, we are invited to consider the artist's playful inversion of traditional views of gender, which contrasts the pretty young male with the more masculine femminiello. Owing to social prejudice, transvestites were rarely depicted until the modern era. In spite of Neapolitan acceptance, this is the only known representation of a femminiello before photographs made at the end of the nineteenth century."

Item Information

Identifier
qv33rw75d
Collection
Art Works
Institution
Digital Transgender Archive
Creator(s)
Bonito, Giuseppe
Date Created
1740 to 1760
Dates Covered
circa 1700
Genre
Paintings
Places
Italy
Campania > Naples
Topic(s)
Arts
Canvas
Crossdressers
Crossdressing
Gender diversity
Gender minorities
Painting
Painting, Italian
Portrait painting, Italian
Third gender
Transvestites
Resource Type
Still Image
Analog Format
30 3/8 in x 24 7/8 in oil on canvas
Related URL
http://www.portlandartmuseum.us/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=68749;type=101#
Rights
Contact host institution for more information
Giuseppe Bonito, Il Femminiello, 1740/1760 oil on canvas 30 3/8 in. x 24 7/8 in. Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon. Gift of the Ross Family Fund of Equity Foundation 2014.107.1
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