Art History Shipping: Who Should Get It On With Whom

from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, 1511-1512 (Sistine Chapel)

Fandoms love to ship. And by that I mean, they imagine their favorite characters falling in love—whether or not that romance plays out in the story. Which character should be with which other character often leads to fond conglomerated names of the wished-for OTP (One True Pairing). Take “Korrasami” versus “Makorra” from Legend of Korra, for example. Shipping also leads to lots of fun fan artwork and fan fiction, and it sparks debates that can sometimes, sadly, get mean.

There’s all of this energy around who should get it on with whom, but I feel like one fandom has been left out. I mean, what about us art history buffs? Where are our romantic debates? Where’s our satisfaction? How come we never get to imagine the steamy relations of our favorite characters?

Well, it’s about time! Please, join me for the inaugural Art History Shipping Wish List, European Edition. Let’s find out just which art historical figures our WWAC staff have been secretly shipping, shall we? *Cue Baroque music*

Alcibiades x Socrates

Shipped by Kate Tanski

This post was inspired in part because I mentioned to Amanda that Alcibiades and Socrates are one of my historical OTPs, because their relationship is amazing. Alcibiades was the stereotypical pretty boy from an aristocratic family, famously described by Antisthenes in these terms: “If Achilles did not look like this, he was not really handsome.” Socrates, in contrast, was the son of stone worker and midwife, and famously—though we know very little about Socrates—he is remembered as being hideously ugly. Their paths should not have crossed, but not only were Socrates and Alcibiades teacher and student, they were lovers, and shared a tent when they served together during the Peloponnesian War, and depending on which sources you read, they saved each other’s lives in battle more than once. And like all good OTPs, they have a tragic ending: Alcibiades’ actions were used as evidence against Socrates during his trial, and Socrates died while Alcibiades was in exile from Athens. Here they are, rendered by sculptors long since forgotten:

Shipping Socrates and Alcibiades
Socrates (left) and his OTP Alcibiades (right).

Waterhouse’s Narcissus x Caravaggio’s Narcissus

Shipped by Amanda Vail

Someone had to say it. Waterhouse’s Narcissus, darling, you know you just want to make love to yourself. So, why not? Please do! Echo’s strong; she can take care of herself. Don’t worry. She’ll find someone else to love. Oh, I see. You’re not worried at all. Moving on, then. You, Caravaggio’s Narcisssus: just try not to be jealous of your other self’s looks. You’re both lovely, honest. Now, just run along and make eyes at one another, will you please?

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse, 1903. (Walker Art Gallery)
Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse, 1903. (Walker Art Gallery)
Narcissus by Caravaggio - 1594-96. (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica)
Narcissus by Caravaggio, 1594-96. (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica)

The Entire Choir from The Ghent Altarpiece x Each Other (in one big, happy, poly relationship)

Shipped by Alenka Figa

I only took one art history class in college, but I think I chose well: It was a course on the Renaissance in Florence and Flanders and involved taking a free weekend trip to Belgium to see several very famous works of art, including The Ghent Altarpiece. My entire class loved Jan (and Hubert) Van Eyck’s work because of the incredibly detailed, realistic beauty, but I mostly remember us talking about how goofy the choir looks in that upper left panel. Our professor reasoned that people often look quite funny when they sing, but you know what other act causes people to make goofy faces? Sex. Also, I just like the idea of a large, joyful, polyamorous relationship hiding in a deeply religious painting. It’s more fun!

The Singing Angels detail from The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, 1432
“The Singing Angels” detail from The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, 1432

The Lady Being Kissed from Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss x Judith from Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes

Shipped by Amanda Vail

(Why yes, I do think about art history shipping quite a bit. Why do you ask?) I’ve discussed The Kiss before, and yes, I did own a print of it back in the day. But I wonder if I ever really looked at it. Because if I did, how could I have missed the expression on the lady’s face? This isn’t romantic at all! The man is clutching her tightly, holding her neck as if he’s about to break it as he kisses her cheek. The woman’s arms are wrapped around him, but placidly, as if she has no choice. And just look at her expression, that of a woman owned, a woman tolerating an embrace, a woman who has perhaps even given up on making her lover understand that she’s just not into him at all. I think she deserves better. She should be with someone who understands what it’s like to be the object of unwanted desire, someone who can support her in escaping her lover, someone who can offer her a warm, gentle embrace instead. I imagine her with Judith, who was so famously and powerfully depicted by Artemisia Gentileschi. I like to think the two of them would run away together to find somewhere safe and peaceful and quiet where they can recover from abuse and trauma and slowly, slowly fall deeply in love.

The Kiss (Lovers) by Gustav Klimt, 1908-09. (Österreichische Galerie Belvedere)
The Kiss (Lovers) by Gustav Klimt, 1908-09. (Österreichische Galerie Belvedere)
Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1614-18. (Museo di Capodimonte)
Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1614-18. (Museo di Capodimonte)

The Mother from Mary Cassatt’s Breakfast in Bed x Whoever is in That Boat in Claude Monet’s The Houses of Parliament, Sunset

Shipped by Jessica Pryde

This is a special OTP for me. Everyone went through an Impressionists phase in high school; they know the story. Joyously for me, I grew up in DC, one bus-route away from the National Gallery of Art. So, of course, my wall was covered in prints of paintings I got to look at in the museum. (Okay, there was one Linkin Park poster. Don’t judge.) As I stared at the little family on my wall, all I could think was … she looks exhausted. And like she could get out of the house. What hung next to her but The Houses of Parliament, Sunset, one of the paintings in the series that included a person (we’ll assume it’s a man) on a boat. What could be better for the mother—for both her and her daughter—than the chance to spend time out on the water, to breathe the fresh air, and enjoy it with someone?

Breakfast in Bed by Mary Cassatt, c. 1897. (National Gallery, Washington DC)
Breakfast in Bed by Mary Cassatt, c. 1897. (Huntington Library)
The Houses of Parliament, Sunset by Claude Monet, 1903. (National Gallery, Washington DC)
The Houses of Parliament, Sunset by Claude Monet, 1903. (National Gallery, Washington DC)

The Dying Gaul x ???

Shipped by Amanda and Kate (and you?)

The Dying Gaul - Musei Capitolini
Dying Gaul, 3rd c. BCE. (Musei Capitolini)

A challenge for you, dear readers: Dying Gaul needs someone to love. While he’s long been held up as representative of Rome’s triumph over Gaul, there’s so much more to him than that. There must be, right? Just look at his face, at that pathos. He’s full of strength, pain, and is that a hint of regret as well? Could he be mourning someone? Did he watch his shield-mate die? Did he rush off to war before telling his true love the truth in his heart? Who is his one true pairing? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The Dying Gaul, 3rd c. BCE. (Musei Capitolini)
Detail, Dying Gaul, 3rd c. BCE. (Musei Capitolini)
Amanda Vail

Amanda Vail

Amanda is a staff writer for WWAC. She is also a developmental editor and copywriter in less-than-sunny Seattle. She likes to poke her nose into things, mainly manga, graphic novels, sci-fi & fantasy books, and art galleries. Then she writes about them. She also drinks a lot of coffee. Tweet her @amandamvail.