Category Archives: Icons of erotic art

Icons of erotic art #56

In the history of 20th century eroticaWalter Sickert kicks off the era with a series of oils known as the The Camden Town Nudes.

Nuit dété (Summer Night) [above] is one of them. Sickert’s erotica is exemplary of the cult of ugliness. Nevertheless, I like his nudes better than Lucian Freud’s, which belong to the same ‘cult of ugliness’ category. Of note is also that Sickert wrote of eroticism in the visual arts in writings such as “The Naked and the Nude“.

I say “writings“, but I’m not sure he did more writing on the nude than this one.

Face and hand variations

Face and hand details of three classic Western art reclining female nudes.

Closed eyes, a frank gaze that makes eye contact and indifferent boredom, respectively.

The first two ladies have their hands in their “fleurs de son jardin,” in their flower garden, to cite Swinburne‘s words, suggesting masturbation; the third girl is not touching her flowers.

From left to right: Giorgione’s VenusTitian’s Venus and Manet’s Venus.

Icon of Erotic Art #55

There is a scene in the film Story of O which juxtaposes a woman’s face in the throes of orgasm and the face of another woman who is being tortured. Supposedly, the facial expressions of both women cannot be distinguished, at least, that’s what the film claims (I don’t know whether the same claim is made in the book).

This is the first thing that came to my mind when I laid eyes on the recently published supposedly long-lost upper section of Gustave Courbet’s masterpiece The Origin of the World[1], a painting of a young woman’s face and shoulders which was — again supposedly — severed from the original work.

The woman depicted is the Irish redhead Joanna Hiffernan, who must have been around 23 when this work was painted. Joanna “Jo” Hiffernan (ca. 1843 – after 1903) was also the model of and romantically linked with American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who painted her as The White Girl. Courbet also painted her as La belle Irlandaise and Le Sommeil.

I think the work is fantastic (regardless if it is a part of L’Origine or not) and frankly, just as exciting as the world famous beaver shot of the lower section. I love orgiastic faces (and swooning women) and I am not the only one. There is the website ‘Beautiful Agony,’ of which the name at least seems to corroborate the claim of the narrator of the Story of O.

The upper section of ‘L’Origine is Icon of Erotic Art #55.

The History of Erotica, from Caveman to Marquis de Sade

In September 2009 I bade you farewell.

I’m back with a book, a history of erotica which starts in prehistory and ends for now with Henry Fuseli,  J. – J. Lequeu and Marquis de Sade.

It features some 250 images and about as many citations.

It is for the time being only available in Dutch and costs 25 euros.

The book was presented on the evening of valentine’s day, 2011.

Gratuitous nudity #18

Liebeszauber (c. 1470, Magic of Love) is an Early Netherlandish painting depicting a nude woman casting a love spell over a young man who is about to enter her room. The painting is housed at the Leipzig, Museum der Künste. The woman has a tight pelvis, wide waist circumference and small breasts.

See love magic, anonymous masters, love spells, female body shape and Early Netherlandish painting.

More love magic in art and literature:

“A wild centaur named Nessus attempted to kidnap Deianira, but she was rescued by Heracles, who shot the centaur with a poisoned arrow. As he lay dying, Nessus lied to Deianira, telling her that a mixture of olive oil with the semen that he had dropped on the ground and his heart’s blood would ensure that Heracles would never again be unfaithful. ”

“Tristan goes to Ireland to bring back the fair Iseult for his uncle King Mark to marry. Along the way, they accidentally ingest a love potion that causes the pair to fall madly in love. In the “courtly” version, the potion’s effects last for a lifetime; in the “common” versions, however, the potion’s effects wane after three years.

“The opening of this comic opera finds Nemorino, a poor peasant, in love with Adina, a beautiful landowner, who torments Nemorino with her indifference. When Nemorino hears Adina reading to her workers the story of Tristan and Isolde, he is convinced that a magic potion will gain Adina’s love for him. The traveling quack salesman, Dulcamara arrives, Nemorino innocently asks Dulcamara if he has anything like Isolde’s love potion. Dulcamara says he does, selling it to Nemorino at a price matching the contents of Nemorino’s pockets. Unknown to Nemorino, the bottle contains only wine. ”

Icon of Erotic Art #54

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1878) is a watercolor painting by Belgian artist Félicien Rops. Freud commented on this work in his essay “Delusion and Dream in Jensen’s Gradiva”:

“The engraver has chosen the model case of withdrawal into the life of saints and penitents. An ascetic monk takes refuge – probably to escape worldly temptations – near the image of the crucified Saviour. This cross fades like a shadow and in its place the radiant image of a naked woman in full bloom, takes its place, also in the shape of a crucifixion. Other painters, whose psychological insight was not as penetrating, positioned their analogous representations of temptation, with sin insolent and triumphant, somewhere alongside the Saviour on the Cross. Only Rops made it take the place of Our Lord Himself on the Cross; he seemed to know that the repressed thought returns at the very moment of its repression…” —Translation James Strachey

Some snippets in original German:

“Eine bekannte Radierung von Felicien Rops illustriert diese wenig beachtete und der Würdigung so sehr bedürftige Tatsache eindrucksvoller”

“Ein asketischer Mönch hat sich – gewiss vor den Versuchungen der Welt – zum Bild des gekreuzigten Erlösers geflüchtet. Da sinkt dieses Kreuz schattenhaft nieder und strahlend erhebt sich an seiner Stelle, zu seinem Ersatze, das Bild eines üppigen nackten Weibes in der gleichen Situation der Kreuzigung.”

Some of the stories of the demons and temptations that Anthony is reported to have faced are perpetuated now mostly in paintings, where they give an opportunity and pretext for artists to depict their more lurid or bizarre fantasies. Emphasis on these stories, however, did not really begin until the Middle Ages, when the psychology of the individual became a greater interest.

Many visual artists have depicted these incidents from the life of Saint Anthony; in prose, the tale was retold and embellished by Gustave Flaubert.

The subject of Saint Anthony was first presented in the 10th century at Italian fresco paintings. In the European Middle Ages one can watch an accumulation of the theme in book illumination and later in German woodcuts.

About 1500 originated the famous paintings of Martin Schöngauer (ca. 1490), Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1505) and Matthias Grünewald (ca. 1510).

In modern and contemporary art (Félicien Rops and Salvador Dalí) the Temptations of Saint Anthony are stable elements in European art.

Introducing Anton Solomoukha and Icon of Erotic Art #53

Via Ponyxpress comes Anton Solomoukha


Anton Solomoukha (born 1945, Kiev) is an Ukrainian painter and photographer, currently living in Paris, France. He graduated from the Fine Arts School of Kiev and left the USSR in 1978. His works are mostly neoclassicist; Sigmund Freud, eroticism and psychoanalysis are recurring themes in his works.

Renaissance erotica and icons of erotic art #49, #50, #51 and #52

After ending a brief survey of medieval erotica, I’ve come upon Renaissance erotica, where I must tell you of Venus and Nini.

Sleeping Venus (c. 1510) GiorgioneSleeping Venus (c. 1510) Giorgione

Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian

Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian

Venus and Nini are two terms of art to denote the female nude, the first is divine, the second is a mere mortal. They are illustrated here by the Venus (Giorgione) vs. Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian.

My most astonishing find was the 16th century Testa di cazzi, which reminded me of the 18th century anonymous caricature of the Cardinal Armand de Rohan-Soubise[1].

Testa di cazzi by Francisco Urbini

Testa di cazzi by Francisco Urbini

The works shown are icons of erotic art #49, #50, #51 and #52.

Gustave Courbet @190 and IoEA #47 and 48

Gustave Courbet @190

The Origin of the World (1866) by Gustave Courbet

The Origin of the World (1866) by Gustave Courbet

Le Sommeil (1866) by Gustave Courbet

Le Sommeil (1866) by Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet (18191877) was a French painter who led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting, best-known today paintings The Origin of the World, The Stonebreakers and Burial at Ornans.

He was one of the firsts to criticize Academic art and denounce the use of  pretexts for depicting certain subjects when he said that:

“I have studied the art of the masters and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I have no more wanted to imitate the former than to copy the latter; nor have I thought of achieving the idle aim of ‘art for art’s sake.’ No! I have simply wanted to draw from a thorough knowledge of tradition the reasoned and free sense of my own individuality. To know in order to do: such has been my thought. To be able to translate the customs, ideas, and appearance of my time as I see them — in a word, to create a living art — this has been my aim.” Gustave Courbet, preface to World’s Fair catalogue, 1855.

The Origin of the World is  IoEA #47 and Le Sommeil IoEA #48.

Medieval erotica and Icon of Erotic Art #46

Medieval erotica

Hell detail from Giotto's Last Judgement

Hell detail from Giotto‘s Last Judgement

As Peter Webb notes in his excellent The Erotic Arts, eroticism is rare in the art of the Early Christian period and the Middle Ages. Pagan monuments were often overtly sexual, but Christian art shunned the world of physical love. Christianity was a non-sexual religion (Virgin birth of Jesus, Saint Paul advocating clerical celibacy).

Gargoyle mooning another building, Frieburg, GER, photographed by macg.stiegler on 4/9/2004, image sourced here. (via Gargoyle )

Mooning gargoyle, Frieburg, GER, photographed by macg.stiegler on 4/9/2004.

It was an era of sexual repression, but there are exceptions of course. There were elegiac comedies such as Lidia, erotic folklore such as the fabliaux, seductive enchantresses such as the Morgan le Fay, succubi and incubi, sexual church gargoyle ornamentations and Sheela na Gigs and sexual misericords.

The Christian repression of sexuality led to the depiction of erotic horrors in various frescos such as Giotto‘s Last Judgement.

See also medieval, history of erotica, Christianity and sexual morality, Sexuality in Christian demonology and De Daemonialitate et Incubis et Succubis.

The mooning gargoyle of Frieberg is Icon of Erotic Art #46.