Thursday, August 11, 2011


It really is unfortunate that my week has been outrageously busy with school issues (my class winding down, the kids’ winding up) because I’ve been meaning to write about necks. This seemed timely when I hurt my neck on Sunday. But now here we are on Thursday with my neck finally feeling better and the topic just seems stale.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in years of (sporadic) blogging it’s this: if there really is a blog police, they are far too understaffed and overworked to swoop down on my little blog and say, “Hey, Miss Julie Q....if that is your real name...the neck business is old news. You’re not allowed to write about it.”

Thus, in defiance of the blog police, a post about necks, my own and other more famous ones through art.

When I tweaked my neck on Sunday, I was almost amused by the truly bizarre coincidence that I had just barely, earlier that morning, learned how to say “stiffnecked” in Greek. Stiffnecked in Greek, if you care to know (and I do encourage you to slip this into casual conversations), is sklerotrachelos. It sounds like a dinosaur, I know, but it makes a whole lot of sense when you break the word in half and see sklero (hard) and trachelos (neck). Sklerotrachelos occurs only once in the New Testament, in Acts chapter 7 which was part of the readings for the Gospel Doctrine lesson I had been preparing on Sunday morning. What are the odds that I would then have cause to whine about my stiffneck in bilingual fashion for the next few days?

Ken says I’m the only one he knows who is capable of seriously injuring her neck while taking a shower. He knows me well and you might also recall that I once broke my foot in multiple places while making bread. So the shower/neck thing? Not a big surprise. And I don’t want you to think I slipped in dramatic fashion and fell in the shower to acquire this injury because that would be entirely too rational. I was merely lifting my arms to wash my hair when a spasm shot through my neck for no earthly reason whatsoever other than the fact that I am getting old and my body is betraying me one component at a time. For days after this shower, I walked around like an escaped whack-a-mole mole. It even hurt to tip my head back far enough to swallow.

Thank goodness I’m feeling better today and I can find the humor again in the strangeness of it all. I also can see two advantages to this injury.

1. I have now been able to fulfill a lifelong dream of using the words tweak and spasm in the same blog post. I like tweak and spasm because they make terrific, awkward-sounding onomatopoeias. I also think if you tweaked the word spasm and took away its only vowel, it would take a mouth-spsm to say it which would make it all the more onomatopoeia-esque.

2. I now have an only-slightly stale excuse to discuss famous necks in art. I once posted about second toes. Maybe this will become a running blog meme for me. Bodypart Thursdays, we can call it.

I was first introduced to the neck of Marie de’ Medici in a biology book. Marie was the queen of France and the proud owner of a very thick neck. I say proud because Marie made it fashionable to sport thick necks and all the ladies of the court wanted one.

Unfortunately, Marie was in my Biology text because it seems her neck was likely swollen by a goiter caused by the deficiency of iodine.

On to another unfortunate French queen: Marie Antoinette. This portrait of Marie and her children by Vigee Lebrun was especially unlucky. Marie wanted this painting to save her much maligned reputation by showing her as a doting mother. Sadly, one of her children, Princess Sophie, had been painted in the cradle but had to be painted out when she died. The absence of jewelry around Marie’s famously long and beautiful Austrian neck was especially important given her involvement in a certain affair of the diamond necklace. The painting failed to save Marie’s public image and had to be removed from its place of prominence at that year’s Salon, the year being 1789 (queue tolling of bells).

So of course, the story ends with Marie on her way to the guillotine not long after for the removal of head from said neck, where she was sketched by J.L. David, who in addition to being the most famous artist in France was a member of the revolutionary National Convention who had voted for the Queen’s execution.

 No proper list of famous necks in art would be complete without Parmigianino’s Madonna of the long neck. The title says it all. We could wonder about what Parmigianino had in mind when he stretched Mary’s neck to extremes, but it’s more fun to compare her with other similarly necked beauties.

Botticelli’s Venus (indeed the very neck and pose filched by Parmigianino).

One of El Greco’s many ethereal Madonnas. 


And...Barbie (how odd that her neck is out of proportion since the rest of her body has such natural anatomy)

Francis Bacon said, "There is no excellent beauty which hath not some strangeness in the proportion." Those of us with ordinary necks might wish for more strangeness. I remember the scene in the movie version of Sense and Sensibility where Marianne sees Willoughby’s new fiancé, Miss Grey. And even though, like Marianne, we only see Miss Grey from a distance across a crowded ballroom, I’m thinking, who cares about her £50,000 a year, what a neck! How could even Kate Winslet possibly compete? Imagine the casting call for Miss Grey’s role. “No you won’t have any lines so don’t bother reading anything. Just tilt your head back please and look imperious.”

Of course if, like me, you’re left feeling less elegant than all these swanlike beauties, you can always take comfort in the opinion of Steve Martin: “I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks.”


JoLee said...

I love this post. Great gathering of necks. I'm glad yours is feeling better.

Tangent Woman said...

While reading this I kept having to stretch my neck from side to side.
So very glad you are posting again!

stay said...

I was going to mock you for your use of the ridiculous word "onomatopoeia-esque", but then I read "Parmigianino", and I found that it was suddenly much more important for me to go eat some pasta. You have escaped mockery this time, thanks to your Italian friend with the tasty name!