These Violent Delights: Teaching Images of Sexual Violence in Italian Baroque Art History

Editors’ Note

This essay continues the series titled “Hard Lessons: Trauma, Teaching, Art History.” Crafted in a moment of extraordinary collective trauma, “Hard Lessons” brings together contributions from art historians, practicing artists, and museum educators to explore the multivalent ways arts educators make space for learning through varied—and often intersecting—experiences of personal and collective traumas. We hope that the space “Hard Lessons” carves out for critical reflection, coupled with the tools and actionable advice offered by our contributors, will provide support for educators not just during this period of collective trauma, but beyond: we aim to foster an extended conversation, one that continues to build trauma-informed pedagogies explicitly tied to the teaching of visual materials as we return to in-person teaching and open museum doors.

—Jenevieve DeLosSantos and Kathleen Pierce, Series Guest Editors

Note: this article features extensive discussion of rape culture and includes a series of art historical images depicting sexual violence against women.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) escapes virtually no survey of Western art history or course on the Italian Baroque. Textbooks and scholarly literature often emphasize the tactility and beauty of Bernini’s sculptures, foregrounding the use of compositional diagonals, the torque and dynamism of the figures, the attention to musculature and varied textures, and how Bernini’s formal elements develop the visual language of his Renaissance predecessors, like Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564).1 Works like his Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1645–52) in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria or his David (1623–24) at the Galleria Borghese in Rome neatly correspond to a prevalent narrative of this period and culture as reveling in drama, theater, and spectacle.2 Coupled with Bernini’s other roles pertaining to the theater (as stage designer, scenographer, actor, and director), theatricality and performance are lenses through which his works are often read.3

Instructional materials less frequently cover Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne (1622–23) and Rape of Proserpina (1621–22), located in situ in the main house of the Villa (now Galleria) Borghese, which depict scenes of gendered and sexualized violence.4 When these sculptures are discussed, formal descriptions tend to focus on sculptural adroitness and material details, praising Bernini’s skill and ability to manipulate marble. Many scholarly publications and teaching materials, including Robert Neuman’s Baroque and Rococo Art and Architecture, describe the works as “virtuoso performances.”5 In Seventeenth-Century Art & Architecture, Ann Sutherland Harris writes, “The unequal battle between brute male physicality and tender female flesh [in the Rape of Proserpina] had never been conveyed so vividly before by either a sculptor or a painter . . . Proserpine seems real as Pluto’s huge hands dig into the soft flesh of her thigh and waist, while her delicately carved hair and plaited locks fly out behind her. . . . Such specific texturing of marble to imitate a range of surfaces had never been done before with such assurance and virtuosity.”6

Approaches like these are common and make the two Borghese works deceptively easy to discuss, particularly in the classroom, because they circumvent the works’ violent content or subordinate it to an analysis of artistic skill.

When teaching Italian Baroque art history, I see Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne and Rape of Proserpina as opportunities to unpack complicated portrayals of sexual violence and to consider the potential varied impacts that art can have on audiences beyond their original message, time, and culture.7 Trauma-aware8 pedagogy plays an essential part in doing this work well.9 In this essay I situate the teaching of Bernini within a contemporary climate that sees higher than ever incidences of sexual assault and rape on college campuses. I stress this positioning as necessary in acknowledging the historical and contemporary traumas these works evoke.10 In recognizing the horror of Bernini’s subjects, we can question how notions of aesthetic appeal and pedagogies that center the formal qualities of these objects perpetuate the narrative of gendered violence as normative. We can reposition the language of beauty to destabilize a period that many students predetermine as valuable—or even as a synecdoche for art itself—as well as the violence embedded in these works and the art historical canon. Teaching Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina and Apollo and Daphne through a trauma-aware lens can offer salient moments to cultivate trust with students, reconcile beautiful objects with their disturbing and violent content, and build space for difficult dialogues about culturally and historically specific conceptions of sexual violence.11 It can also present a valuable moment for instructors to reflect on how upholding frameworks like theatricality and drama in scholarly literature and the classroom might be discordant with contemporary realities, as well as illustrating how trauma-aware pedagogy can be used as a tool to deploy in redressing these incongruities.

Sexual Violence and Campus Culture

The early modern period can feel like the distant past, allowing scholars and instructors to become desensitized to the horrors of mythological and historical stories. This is further exacerbated by the fact that tales and images of sexual violence against women have pervaded visual culture for centuries. The stories of the Apollo and Daphne and Rape of Proserpina—which both involve male desire, pursuit, and abduction—date back to ancient Greece and were later appropriated by the Romans as part of their own cultural identity.12 I find neither of these stories easy to discuss in a contemporary classroom setting. Both are often treated as purely mythological with few ties to either historical or contemporary social justice concerns. This kind of “distanced objectivity,” as psychologist Corrine Bertram and human development scholar M. Sue Crowley identify it, allows instructors to resist hosting direct conversations around difficult topics and can lead to a pathologization of survivors.13 Instead, Bertram and Crowley propose that instructors need to teach their students—which statistically will include survivors of sexual assault—about the social conditioning that contributes to sexual violence.14 In the case of Bernini’s two sculptures, I tell my students that I have decided to talk about these pieces because rather than in spite of their difficult subjects. I contextualize how entrenched art historical themes like virtuosity and performance often skirt around discussions of potentially distressing topics like sexual violence.

Instructors’ attempts at sounding impartial, removed, and unbiased, or at treating such subject matter dispassionately, can reinforce the notion that our classrooms are populated by students who never have been or will be affected by sexual assault. As intimated earlier, the statistics show otherwise. The Association of American Universities conducted a nationwide survey in 2015 with just twenty-seven participating universities and found that 23 percent of female undergraduate students reported that they were a victim of sexual assault or misconduct.15 In 2019 an updated version revealed that victims continued to believe their assaults would not be taken seriously after reporting them to authorities.16 Combined with the ongoing and inconsistent changes to Title IX which varies its levels of protections toward reporters of sexual misconduct and the accused depending on the political environment, the way that educators manage the topic of sexual assault has become increasingly fraught but all the more critical.17 With little choice in the matter, college and university students actively participate in an inveterate campus culture in which many will become a victim or perpetrator of sexual assault during their program of study.18

Women’s studies scholar Stacey Scriver and doctor Kieran M. Kennedy state, “While sexual violence is ultimately an expression of power . . . social perceptions and reactions to sexual violence are shaped by knowledge, attitudes, and social norms.”19 It is in this light that we hold particular power to both historicize dismissive attitudes and to make space for students’ contemporary reactions and lived experiences by connecting the past with the present. Objects like Bernini’s Borghese sculptures visualize the power dynamics of sexual violence through the tactile details and active composition of the subjects. Teaching content related to gendered and sexualized violence helps to increase awareness around sexual assault and works to denormalize narratives that routinely and systematically violate women—yet this must be done responsibly. With a trauma-aware lens, the teaching of gendered and sexualized violence acknowledges the humanity of both our historical subjects and our students, whose experiences might otherwise be rendered invisible or outside the purview of the classroom.20

Teaching Daphne and Proserpina

The topics of sexual violence and rape culture have the potential to activate strong emotions, not just in the binary categorization of victims and assailants, but also in students who may fall into the margins. By adopting a trauma-aware approach, teachers might consider: What do these objects mean to someone who either witnessed or was complicit in an act of sexual violence but did not intervene or report it? What do these objects mean to someone who was a victim of sexual assault but did not identify as such at the time? To someone who may have sexually assaulted someone or pushed a boundary that they later came to regret? To someone who has been a victim and a perpetrator at various points in their life? No answer to these questions could ever encompass every response to viewing and thinking about Apollo and Daphne and Rape of Proserpina. Moreover, most educators will not—and should never seek to—be aware of the specifics around the deeply personal student reactions that may be transpiring within the context of their classroom. As noted by activist and educator Dena Simmons, “our students do not owe us their trauma for us to believe they deserve healing.”21 Instead, when we acknowledge the possibility that students might grapple with such questions, we validate their experiences and identities and make room for them to engage more fully with our course material and learning objectives. More than this, in the space of the art history classroom, we can help them see how systems of power elaborated in objects of the past refract in our contemporary debates around power, gender, sexuality, violence, and their entanglement.22

In addition to fostering an environment that allows students to be vulnerable and to take risks in the classroom and through their assignments, instructors might wish to model this openness in the classroom setting.23 Before broaching potentially traumatizing or retraumatizing topics with my students, I find it imperative to establish and reiterate clear boundaries from the beginning of the course about the intentions and learning goals of the class, both in the syllabus and assignment prompts.24 I provide content warnings throughout the course and am consistent and transparent about the objectives of each exercise and the course as a whole.25 I am explicit about the fact that we study and discuss these subjects, not to reify sexual violence or normalize rape culture, but rather to reveal the ways that aestheticizing rape often treats its victims as necessary sacrifices to patriarchal pleasure or artistic intent. At the same time, I prepare to offer alternative assignments and follow-up conversations with students who would like to opt out of participating.26 As trauma-informed scholars Janice Carello and Phyllis Thompson argue, “One important message that content warnings convey is that students are not trapped. Another important message is that we are on the students’ side and collaborating with them toward the mutual goal of learning and succeeding in the course.”27 For me, it is vital to cultivate trust with my students and be open to extending multiple modalities to create accessible frameworks for studying these topics. With some of these approaches, instructors can ensure that topical issues like sexual violence become the focus of discussion.

Art history instructors may be familiar with rehearsing the formal qualities and historical reception of a work, but not necessarily with discussing sexual violence or trauma.28 I was trained to believe that historical context was the key to a student’s understanding of early modern art, and that teaching students, today, to adopt Michael Baxandall’s “period eye,” served as a way for them to comprehend the significance of historical attitudes toward art objects.29 The Apollo and Daphne and Rape of Proserpina were part of Bernini’s early body of works. The sculptures launched his career and were lauded by the public. Bernini’s contemporary and earliest biographer Filippo Baldinucci (1624–1696) noted that it was “futile” to describe the “marvels” of the Apollo and Daphne, because “it surpasses anything imaginable. In the eyes of the expert and learned, Bernini’s Daphne always was and always will be a miracle of art, since it is in itself the standard of excellence.”30 Baxandall’s approach allows us to reconstruct this important historical context and reception, positioning them as objects within their own cultures and regaining their revolutionary status, an important step in recognizing how and why these works have attracted and continue to appeal to audiences. Nevertheless, an exclusive emphasis on original context, combined with historical distancing, can lead to instructors obfuscating or ignoring connections across time and culture. It can also deny us, as instructors, the chance to connect with the diverse identities and lived experiences of our students and ourselves. A “distanced objectivity” might provide a more comfortable and reliable space for us to inhabit as teachers, but it fails to acknowledge that students will relate historical objects to present circumstances and apply themes to contemporary concerns with or without our initiatives.

In Bernini’s time, images of sexual violence themselves were not disturbing enough to warrant public censure, and extant documentation of the Apollo and Daphne reveal the social conditioning of an audience that was encouraged to disengage and distance themselves from Daphne’s assault, a positioning that has largely survived today. Early visitors and close friends of the patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1576–1633), for example, concerned themselves not with the violence of the scene, but rather how the representation of a pagan story and female nudity in the Apollo and Daphne might sully Borghese’s reputation.31 Cardinal François d’Escoubleau de Sourdis (1575–1628) wrote, “The figure of a lovely naked girl might disturb those who saw it.”32 To prevent this possible outcome, Borghese’s friend Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII (r. 1623–44), carved a moralizing Latin inscription at the base of the statue: Quisquis amans sequitur fugitivae gaudia formae, Fronde manus implet, baccas seu carpit amaras (The lover who would fleeting beauty clasp, plucks bitter fruit, dry leaves are all he’ll grasp).33

Barberini’s text provides an example of how viewing and interpretation can be policed both in the past and present. Teachers might ask students to unpack how adding the moralizing inscription can shift the meaning of Bernini’s work, how the text points to the viewer’s lust and relegates the sexual assault to a particular sense of male desire, how it positions audiences as Apollo in his pursuit, and how it prioritizes the decorum of a Catholic dignitary—who possesses a larger-than-life-size sculpture in the round of a naked female figure fleeing from a violent god—over the eternal horror as evinced in Daphne’s body language and facial expression. In doing so, instructors can consider for themselves how all these interventions reinforce patriarchal structures of viewing, position us as a specific type of visual reader, and deny the possibility of ever humanizing Daphne or centering her experience.

Multiple cross-disciplinary scholars have underscored the perils of framing incidences of sexual violence as isolated historical events. Literary scholar Suzanne Edwards argues that focusing exclusively on historical moments of sexual assault both conveys to students that the issue is irrelevant to today’s concerns and misses an opportunity to critically examine students’ attitudes toward the subject.34 Early modern studies and human rights scholar Kirsten N. Mendoza used her classes on William Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece as a chance to talk about the concurrent rape trials of two former football players from the institution at which she was teaching.35 In my Baroque classes, if I do not address the violent subject matter surrounding Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne or Rape of Proserpina, I risk conditioning my students to ignore these sculptures’ content in the way I was taught, or to dismiss their experiences in deference to fixed art historical frameworks.

When providing historical context we must include as full a picture as possible of the time and culture, including the prevalence of violent acts such as rape in the early modern period, even when that picture is emotionally provocative and potentially disturbing.36 For instance, the violent behaviors of seventeenth-century artists in Rome like Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) and poet Giambattista Marino (1569–1625) are well-established.37 Instructors who delve into artists’ biographies would also need to grapple with Bernini’s violent history—of sending his servant to slash the face of his mistress Costanza Bonarelli (ca. 1614–1662) for taking on another lover, Bernini’s brother Luigi—without romanticizing, normalizing, or risking the reification of male, artistic genius.38 However, educators who approach materials with a trauma-aware lens might also emphasize a plurality of historical viewpoints to allow for the possibility that some in the early modern period may have always found images like Bernini’s sculptures to be violent and disturbing.39 By opening up discussions to this possibility, students can learn that historical attitudes toward portrayals of sexual assault lack stability across time and region.

Since as late as 1650 the Apollo and Daphne has been on view to the public and has had an entire room dedicated to its display, the Stanza di Dafne.40 Scholars have placed great importance on identifying how the early modern visitor navigated the Villa and on reconstructing the narrative program of Bernini’s sculpture.41 The Apollo and Daphne was originally displayed against a wall, and viewers were meant to walk halfway around it from left to right to reveal a continuous scene.42 Joy Kenseth argues for a particular order in reading the work, beginning with Apollo’s back, moving with the angle of his body to his pursuit of the distressed Daphne—whose extended arm continues the compositional incline and shows her right fingers beginning to metamorphose into laurel leaves—and ending with a return to Apollo.43 We see the efficacy of Kenseth’s framing, where “Apollo gains our sympathy . . . and [we] notice too that the most poignant sense of loss has registered on his face.”44 This established way of looking, though, does a couple things: it sublimates the viewer’s experience into the mindset of a particular imagined period viewer (masculine, white, and powerful) that by default becomes the principal worldview. Additionally, with this specific narrative program, the compassion that we as viewers cultivate is reserved for the aggressor, Apollo, and not Daphne. Scipione Borghese may have planned to impress and delight through Bernini’s display of virtuoso talent, but this pleasure in looking cannot be divorced from the violence that is inherent within the work and unfolds as one interacts with the sculpture. The viewer needs to engage with and activate the scenes of sexual violence in real time to thoroughly comprehend Bernini’s artistic choices. These objects might very well have affected early modern audiences negatively, and if we open ourselves and our students to the possibilities of diversifying the period eye, as many feminist art historians have done already, we can work toward disaggregating the audience’s experience and against perpetuating a dominant way of looking that has been informed by patriarchal viewing.

This prescribed method of looking also implicates the viewer in the violence by forcing us to be passive observers, a state in which the viewer can neither intervene nor object to the violence, as it has been protected by its moralizing inscription, the guise of aesthetic appeal, Bernini’s craft, and the element of spectacle. By considering divergent viewpoints that stray from artistic and patron intent, we give agency to our students in the classroom. We also begin to accept that objects that have been on display for public consumption for centuries to diverse populations would have varying impacts that are just as valid as the original message of the work. To echo Genevieve Warwick in her description of Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, we can “free the piece from the burden of fixed meaning.”45

Complicating Gendered Narratives Around Sexual Violence in the Classroom and Beyond

To generate even more impactful discussions in the classroom around the issue of sexual violence in early modern Italy, I juxtapose Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina with Artemisia Gentileschi’s (1593–ca. 1654) Susanna and the Elders (1610). As an early modern scholar, I have yet to find a direct comparison of these works. Proserpina and Susanna’s body positions mirror one another, but art historical writing does not often treat these works in shared spaces or with the same lens.

Scholarly literature and audiences tend to delight in the drama of Proserpina’s elegant strain and rejection of Pluto, perhaps noting the details of Pluto’s fingers pressing into Proserpina’s thigh and the two low-relief tears on her left cheek. Alternatively, when analyzing Gentileschi’s painting of the biblical subject, scholars and viewers more readily humanize Susanna as she repels the lecherous advances of two older men. Sarah McPhee notes that in the seventeenth century Susanna symbolized “the plight of the defenseless woman who, caught in the web of the powerful, is damned by every choice.”46 Perhaps this immediate reading carries through to today. Scholars often describe Bernini’s work as exemplary of Baroque drama and compositional dynamism and Gentileschi’s as a female artist’s expression of personal frustration projected onto her central figure, perhaps a self-portrait, even though she signed and dated Susanna before her own rape in 1611.47 Asking students to articulate why the two images by Bernini and Gentileschi have been read differently by art historians could underscore critical teaching objectives regarding the dichotomy between aesthetic appeal and violence, the audience as passive voyeur, the querelle des femmes, as well as gendered reception.48 This comparison also reveals how, in many ways, we have become accustomed to detaching Bernini’s violent history from our reading of Proserpina’s assault, while Gentileschi’s proximity to Susanna’s experience seems indelible to our understanding of the female artist’s work. This difference in the treatment of the two works presents an effective pedagogical moment for students to assess how and why art historians and instructors frequently centralize Gentileschi’s gender and her rape, which has colored how audiences view her artistic production.49

In their teaching of Gentileschi, instructors could raise the issue of how much weight we should give artists’ biographies and extant historical records. Social historian Elizabeth S. Cohen argues that we should not treat the well-documented testimonies involving Gentileschi’s rape trial of 1612 as objective facts but rather complicated records “shaped by knowledge, interests, and testimony” as opposed to “a single, coherent truth.”50 This shifting of perspectives further undermines traditional art historical approaches that insist on framing all of Gentileschi’s works through these accounts. The comparison between Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina and Gentileschi’s Susanna serves to disrupt the principal narratives surrounding both artists, as well as show students how these fallible frameworks require some reassessment.51 Discussions about sexual violence in the early modern period should be just as much an admission of its existence and complications as a chance to parse its complexities today, especially when students must introspect about how dominant and patriarchal perspectives impact our ingrained positionalities on women and rape culture.

Past and Present

According to comparative literature and gender studies scholar Gloria Orenstein, when we study representations of women by male artists, “we recognize that art is a double-edged weapon, for it can render a morally repugnant or humiliating situation with such grace and beauty that we may be seduced into accepting the image as one worthy of imitation in our own lives.”52 Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne and Rape of Proserpina represent sexually violent subjects, and scholarly literature often overlooks or subsumes this violence under familiar frameworks like theatricality, drama, and virtuosity. When discussing these works, we as instructors might feel more comfortable inhabiting a space of historical distancing, perhaps because that was how art historical teaching was modeled to us. We might find it easier to not engage in topics that are emotionally provocative, or topics outside the scope of this essay that might be politically divisive, where there are no clear answers or consistent institutional policies. We might also avoid such topics out of fear of teaching it wrong. To be clear, there are no easy or singular answers to or strategies for how teachers should navigate the topic of sexual violence in the classroom, especially considering that the capacity for deep and thoughtful conversations shifts when teaching in a smaller classroom as opposed to a larger survey. Teachers must make informed judgment calls about what is most feasible to them. Still, I would argue that even this simple acknowledgment to students is a start: they must learn in higher education that neatly packaged narratives crafted by the textbook and reinforced in the classroom come at the expense of fraught and tangled histories, and that these narratives have lasting repercussions.

Teaching with trauma awareness can allow instructors to better understand their students. It also lets students connect classroom material to their lived experiences, think critically, engage with the material more deeply, and feel supported by their teachers in this learning process. It encourages growth that extends beyond the classroom. With a trauma-aware approach, teachers might also reflect on their own experiences as students, the traumas they may have endured, and the response (or lack thereof) to those traumas.53 For me, teaching is about challenging students to confront their and my biases and perspectives, creating points for powerful reflections and discussions on how and why we talk about topics like gendered and sexual violence differently in historical contexts, assessing what factors contribute to these viewpoints, and determining where we can go from here.54

Allison Kim is an art historian. She received her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019 and has held teaching appointments at the University of Texas at Austin, Skidmore College, and Wake Forest University. She specializes in early modern visual culture in Italy, with research interests in memory, identity, and historical construct.

  1. The standard survey art history textbooks that I have consulted are Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren, Art: A Brief History, 7th ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2020); Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren, Art History, 6th ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2018); Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History, 2 vols, 16th ed. (Boston: Cengage, 2020); Penelope J. E. Davies et al., Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition, rev. ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2016).
  2. General survey art history textbooks, like Stokstad and Cothren’s, tend to characterize the European Baroque as a time of extravagance, drama, and emotion: “Dramatically lit, theatrical compositions often combine several media within a single work as artists highlight their technical virtuosity. . . . Viewers participated in works of art like audiences in a theater—vicariously but completely—as the work of art drew them visually and emotionally into its orbit.” See Art History, 726–27. Art history textbooks specific to the European Baroque, like Ann Sutherland Harris’s, provide more nuance to the region and period, while also acknowledging these enduring characteristics: “What began as an insult has become a more positive word associated with energy, emotion, drama, even extravagance, qualities believed to be especially characteristic of the arts of seventeenth-century Europe. Thus the word is often adopted to embrace all seventeenth-century art, whether or not it exemplifies these qualities.” See Seventeenth-Century Art & Architecture, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2008), 88.
  3. Bernini’s artistic production is deeply entangled with theater and performance in both literal and theoretical forms, as Genevieve Warwick and others have explored. See especially Warwick, Bernini: Art as Theatre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
  4. The Apollo and Daphne and Rape of Proserpina were originally intended for Borghese’s pleasure palace, the Casino, but the patron gifted the latter soon after its completion to the Ludovisi family villa, where it was displayed until 1908. The Italian State returned the work to the Villa Borghese, where the Rape of Proserpina has resided since.
  5. Robert Neuman, Baroque and Rococo Art and Architecture (Boston: Pearson, 2013), 101.
  6. Harris, Seventeenth-Century Art, 88.
  7. There are a host of factors that might limit or inform an instructor’s options for teaching. I offer suggestions and examples specific to my teaching experiences at various institutions in higher education and hope that instructors reading this essay will find at least some of its content to be relevant or helpful to their own courses, whatever those may be and whatever form they take.
  8. In this essay I use the term “trauma-aware,” as the Missouri Department of Mental Health defines it: “School staff have been informed about trauma, including historical and community trauma, are able to comfortably speak to its impacts, and have begun to consider how to translate that information into changes within the school.” It is distinct from other terms like “trauma-informed” and “trauma-responsive,” which involve more institution-wide changes. See “Missouri Model for Trauma-Informed Schools,” 6. See also Karen Costa, “Why I Use ‘Trauma-Aware’ Instead of ‘Trauma-Informed,’” November 2020.
  9. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) developed six key principles and ten implementation domains that have served as the cornerstone for trauma-informed pedagogy. See “SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach,” SAMHSA’s Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative, July 2014. For some approaches to trauma-aware and trauma-informed teaching, see Karen Costa, “Trauma-Aware Teaching Checklist”; Phyllis Thompson and Janice Carello, eds., Trauma-Informed Pedagogies: A Guide for Responding to Crisis and Inequality in Higher Education (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022).
  10. For information on how trauma affects the brain, see Mays Imad, “Our Brains, Emotions, and Learning: Eight Principles of Trauma-Informed Teaching,” in Trauma-Informed Pedagogies, 35–47; “Leveraging the Neuroscience of Now,” Inside Higher Ed (June 2020).
  11. Trauma-aware pedagogy is an iterative process and, in my experience, requires teachers to be attuned to audiences that themselves are neither static nor monolithic. I acknowledge the harsh realities of the academic workforce and the choices that all faculty, whether they hold permanent or contingent roles, must make in their teaching practices and course development. This essay provides suggestions to those who have the capacity to modify their teachings of seventeenth-century European art and visual culture.
  12. In the Apollo and Daphne, the god Apollo pursues the nymph Daphne in a lustful rage after being struck by Cupid’s arrow. Apollo fails, as Daphne’s father, the river god Peneus, “saves” his daughter by transforming her into a laurel tree. In the Rape of Proserpina, the god Pluto uses force and later deception through pomegranate seeds to abduct and then keep Proserpina in the underworld with him. While the exact origins of the story of Apollo and Daphne are unknown, those in the early modern period would have likely consulted Ovid’s (43 BCE–17 CE) Metamorphoses. See Ovid, Metamorphoses, Volume I: Books 1–8, trans. Frank Justus Miller (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1916), 1.452–587. The Homeric Hymns detail the story of the rape of Proserpina. See Homeric Hymns. Homeric Apocrypha. Lives of Homer, ed. and trans. Martin L. West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 2.1–495.
  13. Corrine C. Bertram and M. Sue Crowley, “Teaching About Sexual Violence in Higher Education: Moving from Concern to Conscious Resistance,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 33, no. 1 (2012): 63–64, 70.
  14. Bertram and Crowley, “Teaching Sexual Violence,” 65.
  15. There was only a 19.3 percent response rate. See “AAU Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct (2015),” last modified September 3, 2015.
  16. Mary Sue Coleman, “AAU Campus Climate Survey (2019),” last modified October 15, 2019. The AAU reconducted their survey in 2019 with twenty-one schools participating, and the results increased slightly, though were not statistically significant. See “Report on the AAU Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.”
  17. Sarah Brown, “Is a Fair Title IX System Possible?” The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 2021); Lee Gardner, “With Title IX Guidance in Flux, It May Be ‘Open Hunting Season’ for Lawyers,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 64, no. 8 (October 2017). For the most recent changes (at the time of writing) to Title IX policies, see The United States Department of Education, “Questions and Answers on the Title IX Regulations on Sexual Harassment (July 2021),” last modified June 28, 2022.
  18. Systematic studies of campus sexual assault are fairly uncommon and seem to vary on an institutional level. For instance, in 2018, 48 percent of female undergraduate students at Duke University reported that they experienced sexual assault in some form. See Lisa Fedina, Jennifer Lynne Holmes, and Bethany L. Backes, “Campus Sexual Assault: A Systematic Review of Prevalence Research From 2000 to 2015,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 19, no. 1 (2018): 76–93; Katherine Mangan, “48% of Female Undergrads at Duke Say They Were Sexually Assaulted While Enrolled, Up Sharply from 2016,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 65, no. 25 (March 2019).
  19. Stacey Scriver and Kieran M. Kennedy, “Delivering education about sexual violence: reflections on the experience of teaching a sensitive topic in the social and health sciences,” Irish Educational Studies 35, no. 2 (2016): 196.
  20. Additionally, while Bernini’s sculptures and many Greco-Roman mythological stories focus on sexual violence against women, it is crucial to also affirm with students that sexual violence against male, trans, and nonbinary students are equally serious topics. With male students, the cases of student reporting tend to be statistically lower, not necessarily because of fewer occurrences, but because of social stigma and conditioning surrounding male victims. A study in 2017 of undergraduate students at a midsized university in Pennsylvania concluded that while female students were more likely to report unwanted sexual contact, both male and female students reported similar rates of rape and attempted rape, and the differences in cases of sexual coercion were marginal. See Cristina L. Reitz-Krueger, Sadie J. Mummert, and Sara M. Troupe, “Real Men Can’t Get Raped: An Examination of Gendered Rape Myths and Sexual Assault Among Undergraduates,” Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research 9, no. 4 (2017): 318.
  21. Dena Simmons, “Confronting Inequity / The Trauma We Don’t See,” Educational Leadership 77, no. 8 (May 2020).
  22. The history of art is replete with traumatic images and content, something with which the discipline needs to contend in the classroom. Instructors of art and visual culture, as much as they may not intend to traumatize or retraumatize their students, might still prepare for those possible outcomes, given art history’s inability to avoid uncomfortable conversations altogether. Teachers can volunteer information on campus resources and encourage students to use them, especially institutions that champion mental health and diversity, equity, inclusivity, and accessibility. For strategies on inclusive teaching, see Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan, “How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive,” The Chronicle of Higher Education; Karen Oehme, et al, “A Trauma-Informed Approach to Building College Students’ Resilience,” Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work 16, no. 1 (2019): 93–107.
  23. Kirsten N. Mendoza, “Sexual Violence, Trigger Warnings, and the Early Modern Classroom,” in Teaching Social Justice through Shakespeare: Why Renaissance Literature Matters Now, eds. Hillary Eklund and Wendy Beth Hyman (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), 103.
  24. For example, in my Baroque course from spring 2020, I layered readings, thinking points, and assessment summaries that present multiple ways of addressing theater and performance, beginning with readings that explore these themes with a more traditional lens and ending with theoretical conceptions of both as tools to demonstrate power, identity, and social status. Teachers might consider structuring their classes to show students how this period was significant then and how it has served subsequent art historical periods.
  25. There is continued debate over the efficacy of content warnings. I do not think content warnings serve as blanket solutions to inclusive teaching, but find them to be highly useful in my present-day teaching when they are coupled with other modes of inclusive teaching.
  26. Creating trust in the classroom and maintaining a learning space in which students feel safe are two cornerstones of my pedagogical practice. If a student were to express interest in an alternative assignment and after speaking with them individually, I would consult with the appropriate campus resource that provides academic support and specializes in mental health services. The modified assignment would maintain the same learning objectives as the original lesson plan, but would be shaped by all parties, giving agency to the individual student and preserving as much as possible their mental well-being.
  27. See Janice Carello and Phyllis Thompson, “What Are We Centering? Developing a Trauma-Informed Syllabus,” in Trauma-Informed Pedagogies, 212.
  28. Beginning to address hard topics like sexual violence and trauma would require additional labor, and a fundamental reframing of how instructors think about and teach sensitive topics to their students might feel like a daunting and impossible task. As noted by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, “Trauma informed should feel like a through-line, improving existing programs and practices, replacing ones that no longer serve the needs of students, and creating an environment in which it is ultimately easier and healthier to educate.” See “Missouri Model,” 2.
  29. Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1972).
  30. Filippo Baldinucci, The Life of Bernini, trans. Catherine Enggass (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1966), 13.
  31. Baldinucci briefly concedes that the “chaste spectator” would find Daphne to be “less offensive to the eyes” if they acknowledge Barberini’s added inscription. See Baldinucci, Life of Bernini, 13.
  32. Paul Fréart de Chantelou, Diary of the Cavaliere Bernini’s Visit to France, ed. Anthony Blunt, trans. Margery Corbett (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 30.
  33. Charles Avery, Bernini: Genius of the Baroque (Boston: Little, Brown, 1997), 55.
  34. Suzanne Edwards, “Medieval Saints and Misogynist Times: Transhistorical Perspectives on Sexual Violence in the Undergraduate Classroom,” in Teaching Rape in the Medieval Literature Classroom, ed. Alison Gulley (York, UK: Arc Humanities Press, 2018), 12–13.
  35. Mendoza, “Sexual Violence,” 102–3.
  36. Scholars across disciplines and methodologies have done so compellingly and with nuance, often through a feminist lens. For instance, see Mary D. Garrard, Brunelleschi’s Egg: Nature, Art, and Gender in Renaissance Italy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Diane Wolfthal, Images of Rape: the ‘Heroic’ Tradition and Its Alternatives (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1993).
  37. For an overview of violence in post-Tridentine Rome and an historiographic summary of how Caravaggio’s paintings have been read in conjunction with his violent history and personality, see John Varriano, Caravaggio: the Art of Realism (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2006), 73–84. For connections between Caravaggio and Marino, see Elizabeth Cropper, “The Petrifying Art: Marino’s Poetry and Caravaggio,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 26 (1991): 193–212. For an analysis of Rome’s law enforcement, the sbirri, see Steven Hughes, “Fear and Loathing in Bologna and Rome: The Papal Police in Perspective,” Journal of Social History 21, no. 1 (1987): 97–116.
  38. For more on Costanza Bonarelli, see Sarah McPhee, Bernini’s Beloved: A Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
  39. I follow the method foregrounded by scholars like Saidiya V. Hartman, who acknowledges the limitations and contradictions of relying on primary sources that do not reflect “the subaltern consciousness” and adopts an approach that “requires excavations at the margins of monumental history in order that the ruins of the dismembered past be retrieved, turning to forms of knowledge and practice not generally considered legitimate objects of historical inquiry or appropriate or adequate sources for history making and attending to the cultivated silence, exclusions, relations of violence and domination that engender the official accounts.” See Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 10–11.
  40. Two guidebooks, published before the Villa’s major redecoration project from 1775–1800 under Marcantonio IV Borghese, reveal some insight into layout and navigation of the Casino and the surrounding estate. See Giacomo Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana: descritta da Iacomo Manilli Romano Guardarobba di detta Villa (Rome: Per Lodovico Grignani, 1650); Domenico Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana: con l’ornamenti, che si offeruano nel di lei palazzo, con le figure delle statue più singolari (Rome: Gio. Francesco Buagni, 1700).
  41. For an historiographic account, see especially Joy Kenseth, “Bernini’s Borghese Sculptures: Another View,” Art Bulletin 63, no. 2 (1981): 191–210.
  42. Some examples include Kenseth, “Bernini’s Borghese Sculptures,” 191–210; Neuman, Baroque and Rococo, 102; Harris, Seventeenth-Century Art, 88–91.
  43. Kenseth, 195.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Warwick, however, investigates this plurality of meaning specifically through the lenses of theater and performance and “within the tissue of a ludic aristocratic learning.” See Warwick, Bernini, 79–80.
  46. McPhee, Bernini’s Beloved, 37.
  47. Scholarly literature has debated whether Gentileschi’s Susanna is a self-portrait. We know from historical records that Artemisia Gentileschi was raped by artist Agostino Tassi in May 1611. The trial concerning Gentileschi’s rape is well-documented, and Mary Garrard includes an appendix of the trial documents in her monograph. See “Appendix B: Testimony of the Rape Trial of 1612,” in Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Baroque Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 403–87.
  48. For a historiography of the querelle des femmes, see Julie D. Campbell, “The Querelle des femmes,” in The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (London: Taylor & Francis, 2013), 353–70.
  49. It also allows students to explore how the early modern period navigated the aftermath of sexual violence through litigation. For a parsing of the historiographic treatment of Gentileschi’s rape and sexuality when reading her paintings, see Elizabeth S. Cohen, “The Trials of Artemisia Gentileschi: A Rape as History,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 31, no. 1 (2000): 50–55. Tina Olsin Lent addresses the fictionalized and sensationalized approach to Gentileschi’s life. See “’My Heart Belongs to Daddy’: The Fictionalization of Baroque Artist Artemisia Gentileschi in Contemporary Films and Novels,” Literary/Film Quarterly 34, no. 3 (2006): 212–18.
  50. Elizabeth S. Cohen, “What’s In a Name? Artemisia Gentileschi and the Politics of Reputation,” in Artemisia Gentileschi: Taking Stock, ed. Judith W. Mann (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2005), 125.
  51. As Mary Garrard describes it, “Artemisia’s Susanna insists on the reality and validity of the girl-woman’s experience, and the contradictory, gendered responses to the painting in modern times speak to its radical disruption of pictorial and social norms.” See Artemisia Gentileschi and Feminism in Early Modern Europe (London: Reaktion, 2020), 79–80.
  52. Gloria Feman Orenstein, “Art History,” Signs 1, no. 2 (1975): 507–8.
  53. Simmons reflects on her own repressed traumas as an overachieving student. See “Confronting Inequity.”
  54. In embracing the idea that trauma-informed pedagogy is an iterative process and cannot be accomplished alone, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the amount of thinking and rethinking involved in getting this article to its present state, as well as the tremendous help and support I received along the way. This article has changed considerably since its initial conception as a conference paper at SECAC in 2020. I wish to thank especially the series’ editors Drs. Kathleen Pierce and Jenevieve DeLosSantos, the editor and staff at Art Journal Open, the two peer reviewers, and fellow art historian and dear friend Dr. Brynne McBryde, all of whom have helped make this a stronger paper and contribution to art historical discourse.