These images all depict a Pictish woman—who was naked, save her tattoos, hence much titillation (literally). All the modern visualisations are based off a 16th-century print (shown at the bottom of this page)—there’s some snobby status competition about which is the “original” 16th-century print but I’ve just taken the one that was most visually clear to me so you can see how the modern images derive from it.
The two images on the right are by men, the two images on the left are by women. This is most apparent in the degree of sexualisation involved—the image on the top right, the most famous, looks like she’s a Newcastle lass who lost all her clothes one night when she went out clubbing (she’s also a regular at Executive Tanning Ltd., to judge by her skin). She’s definitely a modern woman read back into history (she most resembles, in fact, “Stacy” from the “dumb blonde gets educated” meme below).
She’s sexualised because she walks with her legs apart, so opening the suggestion that you might see her cunt—the other images have her legs crossed, as in the original, so as to signal that it’s not sexualised. She also appears to be strutting—and that involves hip movement, and that’s sexualised. She’s gazing to her right, and that’s seductive—and her hair is blowing in the wind (it looks very modern, not sure the Picts could achieve that volume and luxuriant quality but I’m not an ancient historian). So she’s a very sexy Pict.
The original image does feature the Pict’s eyes to the right, so there is a seductive element there—yet the hair is no way so flowing. Notably, in all the modern images, save in one, the pubic hair is exaggerated; and that again constitutes sexualisation.
To remove the pubic hair suggests neoteny—prepubescence; now I appreciate there’s a sexual thing about women shaving their twats for their boyfriends but I think at base pubic hair is sexually attractive—it signals that the woman is mature enough to mate. I presume the shaving thing is some countersignal or something to do with “sensation” connected to decadence, possibly the eroticism created by transgression (sex with a prepubescent) or to signal the woman is younger than she is. Whatever the reason, to display more pubic hair is to increase sexualisation.
The breasts are also prominent in the “Newcastle image”—including the nipples—and anatomically correct in a well-formed way. So again, it increases sexualisation—in the original, the breasts are invisible. It’s projection in a way because it puts the sexual aggressiveness found in men into women—the two images by women are much more demure; they project feminine reticence into the image (although they are made by not very sexually attractive women—another factor in play).
I find the image on the top right to be the most compelling, but it is also kitsch and sentimental. It makes me laugh that the artist has tagged it “A true picture of a Pict woman”—it’s actually a massive projection of his own sexuality and his modern worldview back into the past; it’s not “true” at all. It’s just a modern woman, the type he finds attractive, placed in the past. This is why the image is kitsch and not artistic—it’s too subjective. It’s funny because the girl struts with seriousness but she’s naked—to us to be that serious while naked is funny or mad, not serious. The disconnect creates unintentional humour.
The image is popular with neo-pagan propagandists—and like all propagandists they can’t be objective. The desire is to make paganism look “glam”, just like a slick Instagram shot today. What it actually does is project modernity back into paganism to attract a modern audience to paganism (basically, lads who like a Page 3 model—to be anachronistic). Although the image compels, there’s something “off” about it—and that’s because it’s ultimately kitsch and sentimental; it’s too smooth, it’s not beautiful—it’s actually tarty and meretricious, and that’s because it wants to sell you on something (being a modern pagan).
The artist is probably lower middle class or working class in origin; he’s an American comic book artist, but he has been influenced by British comics like 2000 AD; hence there’s an Anglo tint to his visualisation—perhaps he used images of girls from contemporary Scotland or the North as models. The image is constructed from the women in this world (and its American equivalent)—girls who go to a club called OCEAN on Saturday evening, and talk about their “slap”.
It’s a world where his dad would read The Sun or perhaps The Mail and it’s considered acceptable to sexually objectivise women—it’s an image that speaks to a masculine neo-pagan, and that’s a low-status belief because it almost always means “neo-Nazi” (Wicca is high status, being feminine—academic and prominent neo-pagans will tend to be Wiccans; it’s feminine, progressive, and high status—being anti-Christian as well). It signals in-group, non-cosmopolitan—and that’s a low-status belief. It comes from popular comic book land, not itself elite—except in cases like Alan Moore.
The two images on the left are not only made by women—they’re also made by middle-class to upper-middle-class women (elites, in other words—I only use the term “upper class” for aristocrats, neither girl is an aristocrat). And I’ll return to that point in a moment.
The image on the lower right is even worse, a much more amateurish job—the artist has not only over-accentuated the sexual feminine characteristics to a pornographic degree but has also accentuated the masculine features, the beefy legs. The effect is neither erotic nor fearsome (unless your fantasy is to be crushed between the legs of a big-boobed, big-legged Amazon—a feminist fantasy, despite the over sexualisation). The artist is probably quite young or spends too much time online, so cannot draw from life for his art—the other male artist at least draws from women he knows in real life.
The image is almost transsexual in nature, and perhaps that indicates how to be extremely online is connected to transsexualism—it’s both overly sexualised, with her mouth open as if ready to fellate like a sex doll, but also under sexualised because the artist is too prudish to depict pubic hair (it’s strongly influenced by contemporary American commercial comics, very ugly and plastic—not as with “alt” comics, like 2000 AD, that have pretensions). Verdict: mixed up and “transsexual” on two levels.
To turn to the female images, the one on the lower left is made by a professional designer in Spain—she does things like make models for theatres connected to heritage projects. She has included pubic hair but she has desexualised the image by having the girl look upwards at a bird on her spear—to look up is not a sexual eye movement (to look longing to the side is). To look up is more like you’re imploring God, not looking for a sexual partner. In addition, there is a cute non-sexual little bird on the spear—the spear is a phallic symbol, so she has blunted it with the cute bird (even though it is erect).
As noted, the legs are crossed—yet the pubic hair is accentuated (I think this is to do with modernity—it’s considered more “realistic”, whereas the original image, made in more modest times, deemphasises the pubic hair—whereas we have “progressed” to “realism”; remember that John Ruskin, in Victorian times, famously never recovered from the shock that his wife had pubic hair—like a harlot—and this illustrates quite how different our sexual attitudes are). The breasts are realistic but not accentuated as in the male images. As with all feminine products, it’s solipsistic—it’s a drawing of her.
The girl does not have a “serious sexy model” facial expression, as with the “Newcastle slapper”; she has a harmless friendly smile. I checked the artist’s website and her profile picture is of the back of her head. When women do this it means they’re usually not very attractive. An attractive woman knows it and never wastes on opportunity to display her “goods”—the artist’s only strength is her hair, it’s all she lets us see. Less attractive women tend to accentuate their friendly child-like features—and this is what the artist does with her model. Additionally, she is a middle-class professional and it is low-status to be overtly sexual—middle-class people don’t do it.
This brings us to the final image. This is an elite image. The photographer, Steph Wilson, has had her home featured in The Guardian. And isn’t “Steph” just the most middle-class name? Naturally, her home is very tasteful in a hipster-type way. Since this is an elite image, the sexual characteristics are deemphasised—accentuate sexual characteristics = low impulse control = low intelligence = non-elite status.
Hence elites tend to like art that is made up from abstract shapes—completely interpretative and intellectual (you have to read a book to “get it”). Obviously, we’re not some “lads” in a plumber’s van with our Page 3 Newcastle slapper “Cor, look at the tits on that”—we don’t work with our hands, we work with our minds; we’re high status. We don’t say vulgar things, we’re tasteful.
The image is less sexualised than the others but for different reasons to those in the 16th century—it’s not religious modesty; well, it is—it’s just not Christian modesty (the shame of Original Sin); it’s feminist modesty. The image is feminist because the girl wields a huge anachronistic sword—she has “the penis”, she wields “big sword” power. Her stance is masculine. Girls on top! We’re so elite, we’ve moved so far beyond treating women as sex objects to be used for male gratification that we make them diplomats, politicians, doctors, neurosurgeons—how elite are we, we don’t see anything vulgar and biological at all?! (the breasts are almost invisible).
Ironically, the elite image approaches the closest in verisimilitude to the original image and, probably, the actual Picts (except it interposes a fashionable contemporary elite view—the girl wields the sword; it’s still not objective). It’s pretty desexualised because intelligent elite women aren’t generally very feminine and aren’t rewarded for behaving like “Stacy” (we don’t need to fake signal that we go on holiday abroad, to Spain, with a fake tan—we could go to St. Tropez if we wanted, but actually we are going to the usual place in Padstow, Cornwall; because elite competition eventually comes full circle and it becomes high status to holiday at home but in conditions that are so darling you could not conceive it—i.e. not a Blackpool B&B).
What all the images demonstrate is that modernity is not very objective. All the artists interpose their own subjectivity between us and the Picts to various degrees—the elite artist, despite her feminism, is the most objective (probably she is the most intelligent and the best educated and had access to specialists to advise her). Her image is sophisticated, whereas the others are more functional—“Steph” is closest to an artist, she creates the image more or less for its own sake (the others are commercial illustrators). However, she still interposes feminist ideas between us and the image—even though the touch is “lighter” than in the case of the other beliefs.
What all the images demonstrate is that modernity is highly sexualised—if not with direct sexuality then with feminism (where sexual characteristics are deemphasised for perverse reasons, so as to make out men and women are the same). No image here depicted constitutes “art”—none are sufficiently objective to constitute art; and all are engaged in persuasion to quite a high degree.
The very sexualisation and titillation is itself a modern projection—if the Picts were mostly naked, save tattoos, then their sexual taboos would adjust accordingly. If a South American tribesman just goes about with a gourd round his penis, then to be “risqué” is to expose a little pubic hair that is usually beneath the gourd—humans adjust taboos quite easily. If the Picts saw a woman so attired (attired with tattoos, remember) then it would have been normal (to titillate she would have to do something else). The original image compels moderns because to us—very much clothed—it seems like titillation. “She got her kit off”. Except she didn’t—that is “her kit”, and you project what you are onto the past (not objective).
I don’t know anything about the Picts but I doubt these images approach “true Picts” in any way—even the original image. Humans find it very difficult not to interpose themselves between things, especially when it comes to images—hence these images tell us more about our contemporary society, about how feminism is high status and in-group loyalty low-status, than they do about the Picts.