This extraordinary painting is a rare, 18th century depiction of a femminiello
(cross dressed male), capturing a glimpse of a fascinating subculture that is entrenched in Neapolitan history.1
These men were usually the youngest child of impoverished families, and would be brought up as a femminiello
dressed as women from a young age. They were often uneducated, illiterate and coddled by their mothers. Femminielli,
while the subject of much amusement, were met with good humor rather than derision and were accepted almost as a third sex. They were embraced by their neighbors in the backstreet viali
of Naples and were entrusted by all with the care of children and household duties and errands. In Naples, still today, the tradition of the femminiello
remains strong and secret rites are performed for these cross dressing men, viewed entirely seperately from more modern transvestite communities.
This painting will be included in a forthcoming Giuseppe Bonito monograph compiled by Achille della Ragione.
1. A. della Ragione, "I Femminielli", in Guide Campania, Campania (online version).