Top 10 Bombshells

Bombshells, 'it' girls, femme fatales...they've existed since the dawn of humanity. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, the quintessential bombshell, here's our run-down of the top ten of all time.

1. Marilyn Monroe

Born Norma Jean Mortenson in Los Angeles on June 1, 1926, Monroe had the fame bug from a very young age, dyeing her hair blonde and changing her name in her early twenties. She was incredibly astute at marketing herself. After a slow start in Hollywood, she posed nude under the name of Mona Monroe which kicked off a successful 10 year film career where she perfected her potent mix of sexuality and naiveté. Despite professional success, Monroe's personal life was plagued with divorce, rumored Presidential affairs, anxiety, stage fright and alcohol and drug abuse. Her last public appearance was the celebration of President Kennedy's 45th birthday in May 1962 when she sang her now infamous rendition of "Happy Birthday." This, along with her skirt billowing on top of the steam grate in the movie "The Seven Year Itch," forever sealed her fate as the quintessential American sex symbol.

Images and works inspired by Marilyn in the archive

 

Marilyn Monroe, 1952 by American Photographer / SZ Photo
Marilyn Monroe, 1952 by American Photographer / SZ Photo

 

 

Contestants in the Marilyn Monroe competition at Bognor Regis, 12th July 1960 / Mirrorpix
Contestants in the Marilyn Monroe competition at Bognor Regis, 12th July 1960 / Mirrorpix

 

2.  Clara Bow

The actress who rose to stardom in the silent film era of the 1920s, came to personify the roaring twenties and became it's leading sex symbol. It was Clara Bow whose appearance as a spunky shopgirl in the film "It" that earned her the nickname "The It Girl."

3.  Josephine Baker

The American-born dancer, singer and actress became the most famous entertainer in 1930s Paris. Given such nicknames as the "Bronze Venus", and the "Black Pearl", Baker was most famous for her exotic dance wearing little but a string of artificial bananas. Later in life, Baker is noted for assisting the French Resistance during World War II and her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.

 

Detail of Clara Bow from a drawing by Barry Fantoni (Contemporary Artist)
Detail of Clara Bow from a drawing by Barry Fantoni (Contemporary Artist)

 

 

Detail of Josephine Baker, illustration for the cover of a programme at Folies Bergere, 1926-7 by Stanislas Walery / Private Collection, Archives Charmet
Detail of Josephine Baker, illustration for the cover of a programme at Folies Bergere, 1926-7 by Stanislas Walery / Private Collection, Archives Charmet

 

4.  Cleopatra

The last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra was a skilled political player. Early in her reign, a dispute with her co-ruling brother, Ptolemy XIII, forced her to flee. In exile she met Julius Ceasar who promptly fell in love with her and using their combined armies, the two defeated Ptolemy and regained the throne. She allegedly bore Caesar's child during their long-distance affair, but in the end we all know what happened to poor Caesar. Cleopatra ended up in the arms of his co-patriate, Mark Antony. After a steamy 10-year affair that produced three children, the two committed suicide during the last throws of Egyptian independence and republican Rome.

5.  Elizabeth Siddal

Probably the least known by name, the Pre-Paphaelite model is perhaps one of the most recognizable. Her unique features - long neck, green eyes, and golden hair - appealed to the Pre-Raphaelite artist's interest in beauty and purity. Siddal was painted and drawn extensively by artists of the Brotherhood including Sir John Everett Millais' 1852 painting Ophelia and most of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's early paintings of women.

 

Cleopatra, c.1887 by John William Waterhouse / Private Collection, Christie's Images
Cleopatra, c.1887 by John William Waterhouse / Private Collection, Christie's Images

 

 

Elizabeth Siddal, c.1860 by Dante Charles Gabriel Rossetti / Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Elizabeth Siddal, c.1860 by Dante Charles Gabriel Rossetti / Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

6.  Eleanor of Aquitaine

The most eligible bachelorette of the High Middle Ages, Eleanor of Aquitaine was queen consort of France (1137-1152) and England (1154-1189) and between the two bore ten children, two of them future kings. Certainly, Eleanor was a beauty but she also possessed brains and held an incredible amount of power and influence that was unheard of for her female contemporaries.

7.  Marie Antoinette

The fifteenth and youngest child of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Teresa, Marie Antoinette lived a charmed life. Married into the most prestigious crown in Europe at the tender age of 14, she became queen of France four years later when Louis XVI became king. Despite her unhappy marriage, she lived a very extravagant life that set fashion and beauty trends across Europe. Unfortunately, those years of extravagance would eventually lead to her demise at the guillotine at the age of 38.

 

Eleanor of Acquitaine (c.1122-1204) by French School / Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
Eleanor of Acquitaine (c.1122-1204) by French School / Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

 

 

Archduchess Marie Antoinette Habsburg-Lotharingen by Martin II Meytens / Schloss Schonbrunn, Vienna
Archduchess Marie Antoinette Habsburg-Lotharingen by Martin II Meytens / Schloss Schonbrunn, Vienna

 

8.  Helen of Troy

The bombshell title can also be claimed by fictional characters. The first of two is the daughter of Zeus and Leda, also known as Helen of Sparta. As famously described in Homer's Iliad, Helen is abducted by Paris, prince of Troy, after being described by Aphrodite as the most beautiful woman in existence. Unfortunately, she was already married to the king of Sparta, and Paris' hijinks incited the Trojan War.

9.  Scarlett O'Hara

Of more recent fictional history, is the gutsy and resourceful protagonist of Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel and later film, Gone with the Wind. Although she isn't classically beautiful, O'Hara navigates the Civil War and Reconstruction years in her Georgia home with a plucky charm that captivates the older, wayward bachelor Rhett Butler.

 

The Reconciliation of Paris and Helen by Richard Westfall / Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK
The Reconciliation of Paris and Helen by Richard Westfall / Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK

 

 

Head of a girl (w/c on paper) by William H. Barribal / Private Collection, The Maas Gallery, London
Head of a girl (w/c on paper) by William H. Barribal / Private Collection, The Maas Gallery, London

 

10.  Eve

Last, but certainly not least, is the mother of all bombshells, Eve. That vixen of Genesis fame, whose saucy ways led Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and well, you know the rest.

 

Our favorite paintings of Eve

 

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by Lucas Cranach the Elder / Museo Soumaya, Mexico City
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by Lucas Cranach the Elder / Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

 


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