Bosch’s “hill woman” is Icon of Erotic Art #45

Bosch (from the Triptych of The Temptation of St. Anthony)

Bosch (from the Triptych of The Temptation of St. Anthony)

On my latest visit[1] to the KMSKB, I took some detailed photos of Bosch‘s The Temptation of St. Anthony (Bosch). The one shown above is from the left panel. I’ve chosen the rather bawdy depiction of a woman seated on all fours, with here belly and genital area being a whole in a hill. Depicting women as landscapes has been celebrated in several somatopia.

Somatopia is a term coined by Darby Lewes to denote texts composed of, or designed for the human body. Example include Merryland (1740) and Erotopolis: The Present State of Bettyland (1684).

An early novel, A New Description of Merryland. Containing a Topographical, Geographical and Natural History of that Country[2] (1740), “a fruitful and delicious country,” by Thomas Stretzer, depicted the female body as a landscape that men explore, till, and plow. For example, he writes: “Her valleys are like Eden, her hills like Lebanon, she is a paradise of pleasure and a garden of delight.” Sometimes, the metaphor of female form = landscape changes, but the objectification of the female body remains intact; only the image is changed, as when, for example, in another passage, the novel’s narrator, Roger Pheuquewell, describes the uterus (“Utrs,” as the author simply contracts vowels without graphical indication) as resembling “one of our common pint bottles, with the neck downwards.” It is remarkable, he says, for expanding infinitely, the more it is filled, and contracting when there is no crop to hold. Similarly, in Charles Cotton‘s Erotopolis: The Present State of Bettyland (1684), the female body is an island farmed by men.

Bosch’s “hill woman” shown above, and the genre of sexual somatopia is icon of erotic art #45.

12 thoughts on “Bosch’s “hill woman” is Icon of Erotic Art #45

  1. Paul Rumsey

    Very interesting…. the Merryland /Bettyland / Gulliver, etc ,- but I have never seen that figure in the Bosch as female. Looks like a man to me, why do you think it is female?

  2. Paul Rumsey

    Perhaps it is female, I will have to look in some Bosch books and see what they say…..

    The Merryland / Bettyland reminded me of something that I read in “The Womans Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets” by Barbara G. Walker. In the chapter “Earth” page 265 she writes of the ideas of the earth as mother and as bride, which the dead enter when they die.
    She writes…” The archetypal image of the marriage -with -earth had a curious revival in the special mid-Victorian pornography known as pornotopia, in which the female body was a landscape and man correspondingly reduced in fantasy to about the size of a fly.
    She then quotes a long description of this image from “The Other Victorians” by Steven Marcus pages 271-74. ( I don’t think that I have a copy).

  3. Paul Rumsey

    I have just ordered a copy….., I notice that Marcus has also written on Freud, so I hope that there is not too much Freud in it.
    – I have just finished reading “Why Freud Was Wrong” by Richard Webster, one of the best books that I have read in years, very well written, funny and informative.

  4. Paul Rumsey

    My Bosch book says that the figure is male, and that the space under his body is a brothel.

    I have just finished reading “The Other Victorians”, I realise that Walker was wrong, there is no “special mid-Victorian pornography known as pornotopia, in which the female body was a landscape, and man correspondingly reduced in fantasy to about the size of a fly”.
    “Pornotopia” is a word invented by Marcus to sum up the fantasy world of Victorian pornography. His description of the huge female body is a metaphor meaning that the landscape of this pornography is the body, not the outside world.
    I had presumed from what Walker had written that there was a genre of Victorian fantastic fiction about people living on or in the body of giants (like in the Joe Orton novel “Head to Toe” and in “Bettyland” and “Merryland”)
    (See also the birth of Pantagruel in Rabelais, book two, chapter 2)

  5. jahsonic

    Hi Paul and thanks,

    So the figure is male, too bad, there goes my IOEA entry.

    Regarding Walker and pornotopia, I’ve read neither so I am in a bad position to judge.

    The description of somatopia probably still stands.

    I’ll add Joe Orton novel “Head to Toe” to the wiki.


  6. Paul Rumsey

    I don’t think you can be sure if the figure is male or female, my Taschen book on Bosch says male, perhaps other books say female. We don’t know what most things in Bosch mean.

    Do you have a copy of “The Other Victorians”? – it is worth reading, it was published in 1963, attitudes to sexuality have changed quite a bit since then (homosexuality was illegal, women are much more equal now, etc), so the book tells you about attitudes to sexuality in the Victorian period but also the early 1960s.
    I notice that it was republished last year with a new preface by the author, I wonder if his views have changed.

  7. Paul Rumsey

    Well the testicles could be hidden behind the portcullis, but I think that you are probably right, it is a woman.
    My Bosch book says that it is a man, but the meaning of the picture, (if this is a temptation, and the building is a brothel), makes more sense if it is a woman.

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