Some ass news from the UK
The more things change….
Flesh made fantasy
Rachel Holmes on the Hottentot Venus – a South African showgirl with an irresistible ass.
The body of Saartjie Baartman, better known as the Hottentot Venus, has had greater influence on the iconography of the female body in European art and visual culture than any other African woman of the colonial era. Saartjie, a South African showgirl in the early 19th century, was a small, beautiful woman, with an irresistible bottom. Of a build unremarkable in an African context, to some western European eyes she was extraordinary. Today, she is celebrated as bootylicious.
Billed as the Hottentot Venus, Saartjie first performed in Piccadilly on September 24 1810. Dressed in a figure-hugging body stocking, beadwork, feathers and face-paint, she danced, sang and played African and European folk songs on her ramkie, forerunner to the tin-can guitar. Slung over her costume was a voluminous fur cloak (kaross). Enveloping her from neck to feet, it was an African version of the corn-gold tresses of Botticelli’s Venus – and every inch of its luxuriant, curled hair was equally suggestive.
To London audiences, she was a fantasy made flesh, uniting the imaginary force of two powerful myths: Hottentot and Venus. The latter invoked a cultural tradition of lust and love; the former signified all that was strange, disturbing and – possibly – sexually deviant. Almost overnight, London was overtaken by Saartjie mania. Within a week, she went from being an anonymous immigrant to one of the city’s most talked-about celebrities. Her image became ubiquitous: it was reproduced on bright posters and penny prints, and she became the favoured subject of caricaturists and cartoonists.
and here is a factoid not discussed much in history books of Georgian England:
Bottoms were big in late-Georgian England. From low to high culture, Britain was a nation obsessed by buttocks, bums, arses, posteriors, rumps – and with every metaphor, joke or pun that could be squeezed from this fundamental distraction. Georgian England both celebrated and deplored excess, grossness, bawdiness and the uncontainable. In Rowlandson’s cartoon, amply proportioned white Englishwomen are depicted trying to plump up their already big bottoms in imitation of Saartjie, who loftily presides over them all.
Saartjie’s instant celebrity owed much to a coincidence between the Georgian fascination with bottoms, the size of the derrière of Lord Grenville, and the British tradition of visual satire. The aristocratic Grenville family were famed for their huge bums. The nation was rife with speculation that Grenville would become prime minister and his Whig coalition – known as the broad-bottoms or the bottomites – take over parliament. An engraving by William Heath depicts Grenville dressed as the Hottentot Venus. In another, by George Cruikshank from 1816, Saartjie’s profile is compared with that of the Prince Regent.