The Courtesan's Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives Includes CD

Front Cover
Martha Feldman, Bonnie Gordon
Oxford University Press, USA, Mar 23, 2006 - History - 396 pages
0 Reviews
Courtesans, hetaeras, tawaif-s, ji-s--these women have exchanged artistic graces, elevated conversation, and sexual favors with male patrons throughout history and around the world. Of a different world than common prostitutes, courtesans deal in artistic and intellectual pleasures in ways that are wholly interdependent with their commerce in sex. In pre-colonial India, courtesans cultivated a wide variety of artistic skills, including magic, music, and chemistry. In Ming dynasty China, courtesans communicated with their patrons through poetry and music. Yet because these cultural practices have existed primarily outside our present-day canons of art and have often occurred through oral transmission, courtesans' arts have vanished almost without trace.

The Courtesan's Arts delves into this hidden legacy, unveiling the artistic practices and cultural production of courtesan cultures with a sideways glance at the partly-related geisha. Balancing theoretical and empirical research, this interdisciplinary collection is the first of its kind to explore courtesan cultures through diverse case studies--the Edo period and modern Japan, 20th-century Korea, Ming dynasty China, ancient Greece, early modern Italy, and India, past and present. Each essay puts forward new perspectives on how the arts have figured in the courtesan's survival or demise.

Though performative and often flamboyant, courtesans have been enigmatic and elusive to their beholders--including scholars. They have shaped cultures through art, yet their arts, often intangible, have all but faded from view. Often courtesans have hovered in the crevices of space, time, and practice--between gifts and money, courts and cities, feminine allure and masculine power, as substitutes for wives but keepers of culture. Reproductively irrelevant, they have tended to be ambiguous figures, thriving on social distinction while operating outside official familial relations. They have symbolized desirability and sophistication yet often been reviled as decadent.

The Courtesan's Arts shows that while courtesans cultures have appeared regularly in various times and places, they are universal neither as a phenomenon nor as a type. To the contrary, when they do crop up, wide variations exist. What binds together courtesans and their arts in the present-day post-industrialized world of global services and commodities is their fragility. Once vital to cultures of leisure and pleasure, courtesans are now largely forgotten, transformed into national icons or historical curiosities, or reduced to prostitution.

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


Making a Spectacle of Herself The Greek Courtesan and the Art of the Present
Cutting a Good Figure The Fashions of Venetian Courtesans in the Illustrated Albums of Early Modern Travelers
Notes of Flesh and the Courtesans Song in SeventeenthCentury China
A Case Study The Courtesans Voice in Early Modern Italy
The Courtesans Voice Petrarchan Lovers Pop Philosophy and Oral Traditions
On Hearing the Courtesan in a Gift of Song The Venetian Case of Gaspara Stampa
On Locating the Courtesan in Italian Lyric Distance and the Madrigal Texts of Costanzo Festa
Excursus Geisha Dialogues
The City Geisha and Their Role in Modern Japan Anomaly or Artistes?
In the Service of the Nation Geisha and Kawabata Yasunaris Snow Country
Fantasies of the Courtesan
Going to the Courtesans Transit to the Pleasure District of Edo Japan
Whos Afraid of Giuliana Napolitana? Pleasure Fear and Imagining the Arts of the Renaissance Courtesan
Courtesans in the Postcolony
The TwentiethCentury Disappearance of the Gisaeng during the Rise of Koreas Modern SexandEntertainment Industry

On Music Fit for a Courtesan Representations of the Courtesan and Her Music in SixteenthCentury Italy
Power Gender and the Body
Royaltys Courtesans and Gods Mortal Wives Keepers of Culture in Precolonial India
The Courtesans Singing Body as Cultural Capital in SeventeenthCentury Italy
Defaming the Courtesan Satire and Invective in SixteenthCentury Italy
The Masculine Arts of the Ancient Greek Courtesan Male Fantasy or Female Selfrepresentation?
Female Agency and Patrilineal Constraints Situating Courtesans in TwentiethCentury India
Tawaif Tourism and Tales The Problematics of TwentyFirstCentury Musical Patronage for North Indias Courtesans
CD Notes and Texts
Selected Bibliography

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2006)

Martha Feldman is Professor of Music and the Humanities at The University of Chicago. She is author of City Culture and the Madrigal at Venice (1995), Opera and Sovereignty: Sentiment, Myth, and Modernity in Eighteenth-Century Italy (forthcoming, 2006), and is currently at work on The Castrato as Myth: Symbolic Economy and Life Writing in Early Modern Italy. She was also a volume editor in the series Sixteenth-century Madrigal (1989-91) and general editor of the series Critical and Cultural Musicology (2000-2002). In 1998-99 she was appointed a Getty Scholar and in 2001, the Dent Medal was conferred on her by the Royal Musical Association, in collaboration with the International Musicological Society.
Bonnie Gordon is Assistant Professor of Music at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has published on the female voice in early modern Italy and on contemporary female singer/songwriters and her book Monteverdi's Unruly Women: The Power of Song in Early Modern Europe was published in 2004. She has received awards from the American Association of University Women, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the Mellon Foundation.

Bibliographic information