The veil would be an odd artifact if Sapiens were not an odd animal: mysterious, a lover of mystery. 

How would we explain the veil to our closest primate kin?  


This post is about the veils which are visible. The invisible veils are yet more mysterious. Philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, mystics, metaphysicians, semioticians and poets would have to be called in to discuss them.



Unlike a mask, a visible veil does not hide a person’s identity.  It covers a portion of the anatomy; and it has the effect of calling attention to and highlighting what has been covered.


Unlike a mask where all the attention in the world would reveal nothing.




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Marble Head of a Veiled Woman, late 4th century BC, Greek, marble.  Loaned by a private collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. 

The museum notes that these heads were part of three-quarter length figures and served as funerary markers.  They may represent a divinity or a woman in mourning.




Veils may signify something about the status of their wearer.






Archbishop Filippo Archinto, c. 1558, oil on canvas.  Titian, first documented 1508, died 1576, Italian, active Venice.  Philadelphia Art Museum. 

The veil denotes that the sitter has died but that the effects of his actions continue.





Corcoran - The Veiled Nun - Guiseppe Croff - 1860-1



The Veiled Nun, c. 1863, marble.  Giuseppe Croff, 1810-1869, Italian.  Corcoran Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC




6 Gaultier December 2013 Brooklyn Musuem-1

2015 Haute Couture wedding dress.  Jean-Paul Gaultier, French born 1952.  On display at the Brooklyn Museum, NY in 2015




Having no real-world existential purpose, veils are symbolic.  Symbol-loving Surrealists played with the veils.









The Lovers and detail, 1928, oil on canvas.  Rene Magritte, 1896-1967, Belgian.  MOMA, New York.

The museum notes that this painting follows Surrealist themes both of things hidden, masked, veiled and also of the pleasure of subversion of an act very familiar to us. 






The Portrait, 1935, oil on canvas.  Rene Magritte, 1898-1967, oil on canvas.  MOMA, NY



The Blank Signature, 1965, oil on canvas, and detail.

  Rene Magritte, 1898-1967, Belgian.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC




One could say that the only real-world veiling of men is of clowns. 

But I don’t think clowns have a gender, sociologically speaking.  They represent the human condition.






Fratellini clown 1937-38, oil on canvas. 

 Francis Picabia, 1979-1953, Italian.  On loan from a private collection to MOMA in 2016




On the other hand, sometimes I think that extreme mustache/beards are a form of veiling.  





An entrant in a recent moustache/beard competition.


An entrant in a recent moustache/beard competition. 




It’s been women who are involuntarily veiled.

No surprise there.




Tempting Eyes, 2017, carved and stained pine wood, gouache and pigments on handmade wasli paper, plexiglass. 

Humaira Abid, Ameruican born Pakistan, 1977.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

The work relates to a 2011 Saudi law which allowed the covering of women’s eyes if they were “too attractive”.

  These eyes are looking out of the rear-view mirrors of cars which, at the time of this work, women were still not allowed to drive.






Srinagar, Kashmir, 1946, gelatin silver print.  Henri Cartier-Bresson, French, 1908-2004. 

Women lauding the beauty and fertility of the Vale of Kashmir.  On display at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia in the autumn of 2016. 

I have to say that the use of the veil among Moslem women is not all involuntary.  I have heard the luminous testimony of Moslem women about the veil as used in prayer.





Some artists use veiling as a language.

Artisans  use the veil as an expression of their craft in the context of people’s love of the play, the dissembling, which veils permit.






The Veil, 1916, charcoal on paper. Lilian Westcott Hale, 1880-1963.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia





Woman with a Veil, 1927, oil on canvas.  Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, French. MOMA, New York




Hat, c. 1955, stiffened synthetic net and tulle, egret feathers, rayon/silk grosgrain feathers. 

Designed by Lily Dache, 1907-1990, American born France.  Philadelphia Art Museum






Griffin Mask, 1963, molded, stitched and glued feathers, sparterie (made from the grass, esparto), wire, velour. 

Bill Cunningham, 1929-2016, American.  Promised gift to the Philadelphia Art Museum






C’est Moi, 1964, transfer, paint and eyeglasses on canvas.  Collection of Virginia Dwan on loan to the National Gallery of Art in 2016. 

Martial Raysse, French born 1936.

The artist presents himself as fading, hidden and basically unknowable. 




Dark Flag, 1967-76, acrylic on canvas, from the series ‘Big Daddy’ paintings.  May Stevens, American born 1924.  Whitney Museum of (North) American Art 

Politically engaged artists sometimes represent the United States as a veiled human being.  Usually a woman.






No More Games,1970, oil on canvas with cut-and-pasted primed and raw canvas, T shirt, garment fragments, and partially painted printed fragments; two panels. 

Benny Andrews, 1930-2006, American.  MOMA, NY

Politically engaged artists sometimes represent the United States as a human being, veiled with a flag.  Usually a woman.






Two Heads, Back and Front, 1968, pen and ink on paper.  Nancy Grossman, American, born 1940.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

  The artist describes this as a veiling to denote a balance between herself and the world.  



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The Illuminated Man, 1968, gelatin silver print inscribed in ink.  Duane Michals, American born 1932.  On exhibit at the Morgan Library, NY in 2019/2020

The photographer overexposed the face of his friend in an underpass in New York in order “to dissolve his head in light”.




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Veil, terracotta, ropes, hair, 1975.  Marisol, 1930-2016, American born France.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY








Barracoon, 1976, tempera on hardboard panel.  Andrew Wyeth,   1917-2009, American. 

Collection of the artist and his wife and exhibited at the Brandywine River Museum in 2017.


This painting touches on an issue of the greatest sensitivity in  North American race relations. 


The model, Helga Testorf, was white. The artist presented this painting to his wife when he finished it.  She knew Helga Testorf.

The colour of her skin was an admission-deception by the artist of his wife. The artist produced more than 200 paintings and drawings of this model.  He revealed them only ten years after this gift to his wife. 

Not only is the artist using skin colour as an attempted deception but he premises this deception on the idea that a black woman, no matter how beautiful,  would not be attractive  by reason of the colour of her skin. 

More complexity is added by the fact that it was the artist’s wife who named the painting ‘baracoon’. 

The name means an enclosure for slaves prior to their sale and dispersal.






Front and back of Fishing Boat hat, 1980, cotton, veiling beads, plastic, clay, paint.  On exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2019




The Substance of Natural Things is One, oil on wood, 1990. Thomas Chimes, 1921-2009, American.  Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington.

One of several mysterious paintings based on a photograph of Alfred Jarry, 1873-1907, French iconoclastic playwright and novelist who was this artist’s hero. 



A hat designed by Philip Treacy, milliner, Irish, born 1967.  Unknown date.  Image from the web.  





Limb, 1981, oil on canvas.  Louisa Chase, 1951-2016, American.  Whitney Museum of North American Art, NY. 






Transparent Self-Portrait, 1987, oil on canvas.  Maria Lassnig, 1919-2014, Austrian.  Promised gift to MOMA, NY





Bag Lady in Flight, reconstructed 1990, shopping bags, grease and hair.  David Hammons, American born 1943. 

Eileen Norton Harris Foundation on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19




Isabella Blow, 1958-2007, British, fashion impresario, ‘discoverer’, muse and friend of Philip Treacy wearing a veil hat.  Unknown date. Image from the web.





Joan Didion, 2001, gelatin silver print.  Duane Michals, American born 1932.  On display in 2019/2020 at the Morgan Library, NY

The photographer wanted to draw attention to the author’s ‘fierce reticence’.  She is a superstar in the literary world but has not behaved as many others: hanging everything out for all to see.







 Passe Blanc; 2002; screenprint on Asian paper cast with fabricated leaves and printed element.  Bettye Saar, born 1926; American.  Philadelphia Museum of Art


This painting touches on another issue of the greatest sensitivity in North American race relations. 

‘Passe Blanc’ is a term used in the state of Louisiana in the southern United States for the life decision by those people who are Afro-Americans (French Creoles) to present themselves (pass for) white Americans so indistinguishable are they from white Americans. 

This “passing for white” occurs everywhere in the United States. 

 It has been one of the drivers of the work of the American artist, Adrian Piper, born 1948.  Unlike some members of her family, she has refused to pass for white.  The father of her father abandoned his family upon the birth of a child who was not white. 

While this behaviour is aberrant, it speaks first and foremost to the catastrophic life disadvantages faced by Black Americans since their forced entry to the country.







Untitled, 2001-2002, graphite on paper.  Marisa Merz, 1926-2019, Italian.  On exhibit to the Philadelphia Museum in 2019 from a private collection






Anne Frank, oil on canvas, 2007.  Abasalom Jak Lahav, born Jerusalem 1977, working in New York.  Jewish Museum, NY

One of a series of portraits of prominent Jews.  Anne Frank, a young diarist, murdered by the Nazis.






Bob Dylan, oil on canvas, 2007.  Absalom Jak Lahav, born Jerusalem 1977, working in New York.

One of a series of portraits of prominent Jews. Bob Dylan’s mouth is covered perhaps to highlight that this poet not only writes poetry but sings it out to all the world. 

The poet’s eyes are as blind because he is a seer and they see not with the eyes but with the eyes of the soul/mind.







Soundsuit, 2011, found objects, knit head and bodysuit, and mannequin.  MOMA, NY


After the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles in 1991 – 52 people died in the city after the police almost beat Rodney King to death – the artist Nick Cave began making ‘sound suits’ as a metaphorical shield for populations of colour. 

The museum notes that this creation stands for marginalized populations, repeatedly targeted by the forces of law and order.





Smiley Face headpiece, 2013, yellow acrylic. 

Philip Treacy, British born Ireland, 1966.  Loaned by the creator to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019





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NY March 30 2018 184

Actors, 2013, mannequin, clothes, shoes, fabric and paper.  Loaned by the SYZ Collection, Switzerland to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018






Yashmak, aluminium, Swarovski crystal, 2017 edition, originally designed for Alexander McQueen (British, founded 1992) by Shaun Leane, British born 1969.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY



There has come a change in the ontology of veils, it seems.

No human being has needed to wear a veil to live a peaceable life.  Veils have been a Sapiens plaything, an invention to spice up our lives.

A line seems to have been crossed; and veiling seems to have moved from plaything to existential necessity.





CV Dazzle:  Camouflage from Face Detection, 2017.  Designed by Adam Harvey, American born 1981.Photographed by Cha Hyun-Sek. 

Loaned by the designer to an exhibition about technologically-driven imminent changes to our lives. the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2019/2020.



CV Dazzle uses highly stylized face makeup and hair styling to protect the wearer from computer vision face detection. 


This technique derives from dazzle camouflage when warships in World War 1 were painted with unique, complex abstract patterns to confuse targeting.


This person, visible to any sentient being looking at him, is invisible to the cameras which, more and more,  invade our privacy, our passage through the world.


A veil-mask.  What a sorry thing.










4 thoughts on “Veil

  1. Fascinating and beguiling. I loved this colourful collection and its commentary. Thank you so much for your wit and research, Sarah!

  2. Comme le montrent plusieurs des magnifiques images que tu produis, le voile a souvent une connotation sexuelle ( dans la Rome antique il était réservé aux femmes mariées) car, contrairement à d’autres formes de masques, il a vocation a être levé.
    Le moment du dévoilement est toujours un moment d’intense émotion.

    1. What an excellent comment, Louis. I had not fully grasped this. Of course, this is why the veil is so attractive to us, so inviting and so exciting! Sarah

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