The Femminiello by Giuseppe Bonito

I’ve been going to the Portland Art Museum the last Friday of each month because it was free, fun, and I love art. Since October 2015 though, the day has changed to the first Thursday evening for free admission, with all Friday evenings just five dollars. On these evenings be sure go to the lower level ‘pub’ for a drink first. Good wine, good art, good friends, what more can you ask for!

Just before closing, this painting caught my eye, so I snapped a quick photo to remember it. It is by Giuseppe Bonito (Italian, 1707-1789) and is titled ‘The Femminiello’. It is an oil on canvas, a gift of the Ross Family Fund of Equity Foundation, in 2014.


Here is the description of the painting, as written word for word, next to the painting.

“This recently discovered painting is a testament to the exceptional social acceptance of tranvestites known as femminielli in the city of Naples. The term, which might be translated “little female-men,” is not derogatory, but rather an expression of endearment. Femminielli come from the Spanish Quarter, the most impoverished neighborhood of the city, as is evidenced by this individual’s missing tooth and goitre, a hereditary condition among the poor. Although femminielli cross-dress from an early age, they do not try to conceal their birth sex completely. Rather than being stigmatized, they are deemed special and are accepted as almost a third sex. In particular,  femminielli are thought to bring good luck, so Neapolitans often take them gambling. This association is represented by the necklace of red coral, which is also thought to bring good fortune. Owing to social prejudice, transvestites were rarely depicted until the modern era. In spite of Neapolitan acceptance, this is the only representation of a femmeniello before photographs made at the end of the nineteenth century. “

About redbudart

I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, just outside of Portland, Oregon. My usual interests are cooking, wine, horticulture, art, and old books, but lately I've been obsessed with saving for a piece of land, so I can practice sustainability and learn to live as close to the land as possible, and then help others to do the same. To relax I listen to Dharma talks. Namaste!
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