Let’s travel back in time to Rome in the late 1500s, and meet a prostitute and artist’s model named Fillide Melandroni.
I never knew her name until last night, when I looked up one of my favorite paintings, “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” In that Biblical story, the heroine Judith lulls the Assyrian general Holofernes into drunken passivity, then assassinates him. Result? His troops are demoralized and defeated and the Hebrews of Judith’s village of Bethulia survive.
Apparently Fillide’s friend and lover, the great painter Caravaggio, killed her pimp by trying to castrate him. Fillide frequented the palazzos of the wealthy, but she was a street girl at heart. I can imagine her pressing a hard bargain for her fee. Caravaggio was notorious for using ordinary people as the models for his religious-themed paintings, which was apparently a radical practice at that time in art history. Prostitutes (or courtesans, as they were more delicately called) posed for such Biblical figures as Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Saint Catherine, seen directly below. The heathen Romans wanted to torture Saint Catherine on the wheel for out-debating their pagan philosophers and converting them to Christianity, but the wheel broke at her very touch.
Caravaggio painted Fillide as herself in 1597 in the Portrait of a Courtesan, a painting that has since been lost and is known only through reproductions:
I like her better in Caravaggio’s Martha and Mary Magdalene, where Fillide as Martha persuades Mary to give up her life of sin and eroticism. Of course, both models lived that kind of life for real outside the studio–Fillide’s friend Anna Bianchini, as Mary, was another prostitute.
I wonder if Caravaggio got into bed with both of these lovelies after a long session of posing? The painter was apparently bisexual.
I like those tight bodices on the gowns. I can just imagine the rustle of the fabric as the ladies climb on top of me. Fillide definitely looks as if she enjoyed riding cowgirl!