Monthly Archives: December 2012

Zola and pornography

La Grande épidémie de pornographie  (1882) is a caricature by Albert Robida first published in La Caricature. It is reminiscent in form and content of Pornokrates[1] by Félicien Rops, which appeared three years earlier.

The litho fits squarely in the late 19th century debate on naturalist literature and the writings of Emile Zola, which were equated at the time with pornography. There is a fine caricature titled Naturalisme[2] by Louis Legrand which illustrates the ‘warts and all‘ naturalism which was criticized in numerous anti-Zoalist tracts. This anti-Zoalism is an important episode in the development of the etymologies of pornography and erotica, since the first traceable instance of the use of the term pornography as an expletive is in the essay “La littérature putride” (1868), directed against the French writer, although Zola never wrote anything even remotely pornographic.

This anti-Zoalist diatribe helped the notoriety of Zola’s “putrid” novel Thérèse Raquin. Zola capitalized on it for publicity and referred to it in his preface to the second edition. Then there was Albert Millaud who in 1876 denounced Zola’s novel L’Assommoir even before its publication was complete: ‘It is not realism, it is smut; it is not crudity, it is pornography.’ (“Ce n’est plus du réalisme, c’est de la malpropreté ; ce n’est plus de la crudité, c’est de la pornographie”).

Towards the end of the century, three complete anti-Zola works appeared: La Flore pornographique (1883), Le naturalisme ou l’immoralité littéraire (1894) and Zola contre Zola (1896). They were all written by the same author, a French bookseller by the name of Antoine Laporte. His pamphlets are most enlightening. Negative criticism is often the best guide to a work. Where else would we find out about the emasculation scene in Germinal?

French censorship largely left Zola in peace. No major trials are recorded.  In England, the powers that were reacted differently. English censorship was led by the National Vigilance Association who targeted Vizetelly’s unabridged mass-market translations of Zola’s work. A personal disaster for old man Vizetelly.

See also: Criticism of Zola by Max Nordau in his book Degeneration

Lutma’s fleshy cartouches: a weak, blubbery mass of human or animal tissue

One of the highlights in bad taste are two albums by Johannes Lutma (1584 – 1669), engraved by his son Jacob Lutma.

They are albums of ornamental prints, cartouches in the auricular style, titled Festivitates aurifabris statuariis[1] and Veelderhande Nieuwe Compartemente[2].

Why did I say that these plates are in bad taste?

So says my guide Les Maîtres ornemanistes on page 508:

Ces Cartouches, composés dans le genre auriculaire exagéré, sont affreux de formes; c’est la vraie décadence de l’art.[3]

These cartouches, executed in an exaggerated auricular style, are hideously shaped; it is the veritable decadence of art. (tr. mine)

Surely, one of the reasons these plates are considered in poor taste, must be their vulvaesque nature, you have to be pretty green behind the ears not to grasp the yonic symbolism.

In equally bad taste is the Cornelis Floris (1514–1575) album Veelderleij Veranderinghe van Grotissen ende Compertimenten.

One word that keeps cropping up in the vocabulary of these Dutch ornamentists is compartment, one source translates it as panel, although it seems more likely that it has something to do with ‘compartment (heraldry)‘.

As mentioned before, the auricular style is a shape derived from the human ear. In Dutch, the style is called kwab and kwab is the word a weak, blubbery mass of human or animal tissue, such as quivering flesh, or a brain lobe.

Most art historians call this work of Lutma zoomorphic. I’d like to make a case to include in the zoological horror canon.


To avoid all misunderstandings, I can see why others think these plates are in bad taste, but I love them. Publishing negative criticism of stuff I like is one my favourite discourse strategies, see also: Whenever I like something which is considered to be in poor taste.

The ornamental print: the highlights

The past few months I’ve been absolutely smitten with the ornamental print. Interest in these as part of the Old master print aesthetic dates only from the 1870s (when the first museums of applied arts were founded in Europe) and has been on the rise the last few years, thanks to sites such as Il Giornale Nuovo and its heir BibliOdyssey. My fascination with them was rekindled recently by taking the book Quatre siècles de Surréalisme out of my library in September. This post is meant to give you the highlights of my research in the field the past few months.

Thus, ornamental print highlights include:

Elephant coming out of a chimney[1] by Wendel Dietterlin, Bouquet on back of peddler[2] by Isaac Briot, Habit d’orfèvre[3] from Les costumes grotesques et les métiers by Nicolas de Larmessin II, Leviores et (ut videtur) extemporaneae picturae[4], Mask with dishes around the eyes and pointed serrated crests on the cheeks and forehead[5], Cartouche in auricular style (Johannes Lutma)[6], Fontaine Rocaille[7] by Gabriel Huquier, Mascarade à la Grecque album, Jeune Moine à la Grecque [8][9], Œuvre de Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier frontispiece[10], Auricular Cartouche with Figures within a Strapwork Frame[11], An antique vase with handle formed by a dog[12] by Enea Vico, Neuw Grottessken Buch by Christoph Jamnitzer [13], Balançoire chinoise[14] by Jean-Baptiste Pillement.

Some perennial favourites, which cannot be strictly called ornamental prints, need to be mentioned here: Bizzarie di varie figure by Bracelli, Varie Figuri Gobbi by Callot, Les Songes Drolatiques by Desprez, the grotesques of Arent van Bolten[15], the Geometria et Perspectiva by Lorenz Stöer, Scenographiae, sive perspectivae by Hans Vredeman de Vries[16] and Perspectiva Corporum Regularium[17] by Wentzel Jamnitzer.

Illustrations: Fantastic Sea Carriage by Cornelis Floris and Poop of the Soleil Royal by Jean Bérain the Elder.

Ornamental print of a zoomorphic vase by Enea Vico

An antique vase with handle formed by a dog by Enea Vico is an ornamental print from the series Romae ab antiquo repertum MDXXXXIII.

It is somewhat similar to this unidentified zoomorphic Art Nouveau pitcher[2], see zoomorphism.

Important ‘ornemanistes’, as the French call artists practising the art of the ornament, include:In Italy, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 1778); in England Thomas Chippendale (1718 – 1779); in France Jean Bérain the Elder (1640 – 1711), Pierre Lepautre (1648-1716), Claude Audran III (1658 – 1734), Pierre Le Gros the Younger (1666 – 1719), Gilles-Marie Oppenordt (1672 – 1742), Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721), Alexis Peyrotte (1699 – 1769), Juste Aurèle Meissonier (1695 – 1750), Gabriel Huquier (1695 – 1772), Ennemond Alexandre Petitot (1720–1772) and Juste-Nathan François Boucher (1736-1782). In the Low Countries there are the precursors and major artists of the genre: Cornelis Floris (1514–1575) and Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527 – c. 1607). In Germany the names Daniel Hopfer (1470 – 1536), Peter Flötner (1490 – 1546) , Wendel Dietterlin (c.1550–1599) and Christoph Jamnitzer (1563 – 1618) need to be mentioned.

Nightmares of emptiness and nightmares of overgrowth

The Jamnitzers were a family of goldsmiths who lived in the 16th century. They worked for very rich people and filled the ‘Schatzkammer‘ of Northern Europe with highly luxurious items, fuelling the general economy.

However, it is their works on paper which interest us here.

First there is the father, Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507/08 – 1585). He is the author of Perspectiva Corporum Regularium (1568), a fabulous work on  perspective and geometry. Of special interest in the Perspectiva is a series of architectural fantasies of spheres[1], cones[2] and tori[3].

Second there is the grandson, Christoph Jamnitzer (1563–1618). Where his grandfather favoured mathematical precision and the sounding voice of reason, the grandson, author of Neuw Grottessken Buch (1610), favoured sweeping curvilinearity, abject grotesqueries and feasts of unreason. The most famous print of Neuw Grottessken Buch is the Grotesque with two hybrid gristly creatures, shown left.

If you see the work of grandfather and grandson side by side, both Jamnitzers seemed to have been plagued by the sleep of reason, the grandfather suffering from nightmares of abandonment and the grandson challenged by nightmares of being overwhelmed by the dark forces of nature.

Poe’s impotence

Somewhat of a surprise was waiting when I finally held all 700+ pages of Marie Bonaparte‘s The Life and Works of E. A. Poe: a Psychoanalytic Interpretation in my hands and skipped to the psychoanalytical interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Loss of Breath.”

There, on page 373, Marie Bonaparte utters what any man dreads to hear: that he is impotent. Ouch. Poe must have turned in his grave when he heard of his post-mortem psychobiography and Bonaparte’s concern with his vita sexualis.

In “Loss of Breath”, my favourite Poe story, Marie Bonaparte finds the ultimate proof of Poe’s impotence. She equates the breath of Mr. Lackobreath, the sorry protagonist of the tale, with “pneuma,” “life force,” hence “sexual potency.”

To strengthen her argument, she cites Baudelaire who once said “There is not in all of Poe’s work a single passage that tends to lubricity or even to sensual pleasure“.

Not only was Poe impotent, according to Marie Bonaparte, he was a “repressed sado-masochist and necrophilist” (299) and his body of writing was the product of neurosis.

Illustration: photo of a silicone packer[2] by Canadaworker from Wikimedia Commons.

See also my two previous two odes to the flaccid phallus, the limp male member: Un priape marchant sur des pattes de coq[3] and votive phallus[4].

Ode to the ornamental print

The past few months saw me paying lots of attention to the ornamental print over at my Tumblr blog.

There is Balançoire chinoise[1] by French artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement., which is more of a decorative print than an ornamental print.  It is similar in style to Raccolta delle cose più notabili veduta dal cavaliere Wilde Scull [2].

The plate comes from the wonderful book Les Maîtres ornemanistes.

By the way, it would seem that the 1870s is the first period when serious attention was given to the ornamental print, judging from a tentative bibliography I’ve made:

The last two books in the list can be seen in full at Follow the links.

The grotesques of Arent van Bolten

Update 8/2//2014: there is a complete version incl. images at

It’s been quite difficult to trace the provenance of the above print. It depicts two chimerical creatures, both with drooping breasts, watched over by three disembodied grotesque masks.

First, via Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture[1], a paper on chimaera phylogeny by Sven Drühl I found the unidentified print above. Searching some more, The Cabinet of the Solar Plexus[2] says that it is by Hendrick Goltzius.

However, the inexhaustable[3] Marinni contradicts this and attributed it to Arent van Bolten (c.1573 – c.1633)[4].

End of quest.

Two other favourites from that series include a grotesque holding a club spurning another grotesque[5] and two footed phalli stabbing each other while surrounded by two grotesque drooping masks that resemble an elongated scrotum[6], that last a real find for the metamorphic genitalia category.

Note the similarity to Les Songes Drolatiques[7] (1565) and the Varie Figuri Gobbi (1616, ‘Various Hunchbacked Figures’) by Jacques Callot.

PS. has easy access to all of the prints[8].