Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, Clothed [Juan Carreño de Miranda]

Refused to be knighted

Prado National Museum

Prado, not Prada

Jennifer Tucker

Contributor

This painting of Eugenia Martinez Vallejo makes me believe that we’ve become soft as a culture in more ways than one.

Not to sound like one of those people who knock being PC to get away with saying hateful things, but it’s true that nowadays we tend to skirt sensitive issues and try to take a less crass approach to human interaction. But tactfulness was clearly not a priority in 17th century Spain! Eugenia’s portrait here was painted solely so the aristocracy could get a good chuckle at her jelly rolls.

In the U.S., the sight of hefty kids sipping on big gulps and shoveling in the candy is pretty commonplace, but back in the 1600’s Eugenia was an oddity. Due to the…rotundness of her physique, she was brought to the court of King Carlos II, where she quickly became one of the king’s favorite freaks. Historians hypothesize that she actually suffered from a hormonal imbalance, way before that excuse got popular with everyone who has a little extra.

Her nickname was “The Monster,” which is pretty harsh for a six year old in cute pigtails. While this may seem horribly insensitive to our enlightened sensibilities about mocking chubby children, it was typical in the Baroque era of art to choose subjects with grotesque abnormalities and exploit them to the fullest. It was also commonplace for the royal court to find people with physical and mental disabilities and adopt them. Blatant exploitation? Sure. But it is also likely that Eugenia and her companions actually experienced quite a lavish lifestyle, which hopefully softened the blow of constant ridicule. The killer fashion certainly seems to have been a perk.

There’s no question that for many reasons, a painting like this today would cause a stir. So in the interest of offending as few people as possible, let’s leave the topic of overweight children to Baroque Spaniards and school boards.