Category Archives: Icons of erotic art

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.

Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray is Icon of Erotic Art #44

Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray

As well as being blatant in his observations, James Gillray could be incredibly subtle, and puncture vanity with a remarkably deft approach. The outstanding example of this is his print Fashionable Contrasts;—or—The Duchess’s little Shoe yeilding [sic] to the Magnitude of the Duke’s Foot. This was a devastating image aimed at the ridiculous sycophancy directed by the press towards Frederica Charlotte Ulrica, Duchess of York, and the supposed daintiness of her feet. The print showed only the feet and ankles of the Duke and Duchess of York, in an obviously copulatory position, with the Duke’s feet enlarged and the Duchess’s feet drawn very small. This print silenced forever the sycophancy of the press regarding the union of the Duke and Duchess.

The print was originally published by Hannah Humphrey on January 24, 1792.

It is Icon of Erotic Art #44.

Icon of Erotic Art #43

Three Young White Men and a Black Woman by Dutch painter Christiaen van Couwenbergh

Three Young White Men and a Black Woman (1632) by Christiaen van Couwenbergh

To pronounce the painting above erotic art, is perhaps stretching the concept of eroticism. However after my illustrious predecessor Georges Bataille stated in 1957 “Eroticism … is assenting to life up to the point of death” there is not much stretching to be done. Truly one of the curiosities in the history of painting, here is Icon of Erotic Art #43 Three Young White Men and a Black Woman.

French erotica, and, icon of erotic art #42

In the history of world erotica I present you with Le Poitevin’s diableries.

Les Diableries Erotiques by Eugène le Poitevin (1806 - 1870)

From the Les Diableries Erotiques by Eugène le Poitevin

Eugène le Poitevin (18061870) was a French artist, author of Les Diableries Erotiques.

He is an underrated figure in the history of French erotica and his engraving above from the aforementioned Les Diableries Erotiques is icon of erotic art #42.

Diableries are an interesting genre and illustrates how — before the “invention” of erotica and pornography — body parts and the people possessing them were used for subversive purposes, here as a form of satirical pornography or pornographic satire. The genre goes back to Rabelais, although his masterpiece Gargantua and Pantagruel was more emetic than erotic.

Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais, illustrated by Gustave Doré in 1873

Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais, illustrated by Gustave Doré in 1873

Cardinal Armand de Rohan-Soubise by anonymous  Anonymous satirical caricature of the Cardinal Armand de Rohan-Soubise (1717-1757); this engraving is a good example of "pornography" as a tool for political subversion during France's ancien régime.

Cardinal Armand de Rohan-Soubise by anonymous
Anonymous satirical caricature of the Cardinal Armand de Rohan-Soubise (1717-1757); this engraving is a good example of “pornography” as a tool for political subversion during France’s ancien régime.

Of course, artists such as Le Poitevin deserve a place in the history of derision, a playful and benign derision that is turned toward ourselves, toward the very core of human nature. As such it is also a piece of toilet philosophy.

Remarkably, the writeup on a Poitevin engraving not depicted here in my edition of Erotic Art of the Masters the 18th, 19th, 20th Centuries Art & Artists , author and editor Bradley Smith notes “penises and vaginas fly through the air like butterflies, are gathered in baskets and, personified, play games with adults and children.” This quote echoes the following by Deleuze and Guattari, “Flying anuses, speeding vaginas, there is no castration” (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 32).

Jean Marembert, and, Icon of Erotic Art #41

Nude by Marembert

Nude (c.1930) by Jean Marembert [source]

Icon of erotic art #41

Au carrefour étrange uncovered a 1947 edition of Petrus Borel‘s Champavert [1] and presents us with the exceptional work of Jean Marembert.

Jean Marembert (19041968) was a French artist who is tangentially connected to such people as Louis Cattiaux, Jean Crotti, Suzanne Valadon, Kees Van Dongen, Paul Colin, Moise Kisling, Man Ray, Leonor Fini and Labisse. He exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon des Tuileries. His biography can be found in the 2004 book on figurative painting, Modern Figurative Paintings: The Paris Connection. Modern Figurative Paintings: The Paris Connection (2004) is a book by Martin Wolpert and Jeffrey Winter on modern figurative painting.

Modern Figurative Painters (2004) [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

From the blurb of Modern Figurative Paintings: The Paris Connection:

“The first half of the 19th Century spawned one of the most exciting concentrations of artists and artistic innovation in history. The French impressionists opened the door to creative freedoms never before experienced, and a community rich in artistic and intellectual talent coalesced to forever change the direction of art. This book documents more than 150 artists who worked, studied, and exhibited in Paris between 1890 and 1950. Many of them have been completely overlooked by scholars and art historians. Their work encompasses the La Belle Époque, Postimpressionist, Cubist, and School of Paris movements. More than 375 color images of their paintings document this fabulous cultural explosion, and also present a visual time capsule, showing the populace at work and at play in bars, cabarets, and jazz clubs, even scenes of the artists’ own studios. This book has been a labor of love; many years in the making. Collectors, curators, and historians will find it an invaluable tool for understanding the art of this period. By documenting artists who have not been written about for many years, the authors offer insight to their paintings, which can still be acquired at equitable prices.”

Artists in this book include Jean Crotti , Grigory Gluckmann, Louis Icart, Louis Legrand, André Lhote, Jean Marembert and Marie Vassilieff.

Wei Dong, and, Icon of Erotic Art #40

Chinese contemporary art is the most creative strain of contemporary art. I’ve previously featured work by Yue Minjun[1] and Liu Jianhua[2].

Over the past couple of days (an intensive browsing session) I find Wei Dong[3], who can best be described as the Chinese John Currin[4].

I could have discovered Dong in 2006 when Bait (2005) was featured on phantasmaphile[5] and in that same year when PonyXpress featured him[6], but I didn’t.

For those of you in NY, please visit the Nicholas Robinson Gallery and check Dong’s Playmate, (2008)[7].

Playmate is Icon of Erotic Art #40.

Introducing Alva Bernadine and icon of erotic art #39

Introducing Alva Bernadine and icon of erotic art[1] #39

Back in the day, when I was still editing, I had amassed a list of erotic photographers I thought were important. The list consisted of Alva Bernadine, Gilles Berquet, Guy Bourdin, Steve Diet Goedde, Nan Goldin, David Hamilton, Irina Ionesco, Richard Kern, Doris Kloster, Eric Kroll, David LaChapelle, Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Steven Meisel, Carlo Mollino, Helmut Newton, Man Ray , Bettina Rheims, Paolo Roversi, Thomas Ruff, Jan Saudek, Jeanloup Sieff, Romain Slocombe, Roy Stuart, Jock Sturges, Ellen Von Unwerth, Trevor Watson and Theodore Zichy.

Today is the day to introduce Alva Bernadine, a man whose work is a fusion of the erotic and the surreal.

Alva Bernadine (born June 17, 1961) is a British photographer born in Grenada, West Indies, and brought to London at the age of six. He is self-trained and has photographed for Vogue, GQ, Elle and others. Winner of the Vogue/Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Award, he was also twice nominated English “Erotic Photographer of the Year.” His book Bernadinism: How to Dominate Men and Subjugate Women was published by Stemmle in 2001 with text by Nerve cofounder Genevieve Field. His work is self-admittedly inspired by Guy Bourdin, shows influences of the Distortions series [2] by Hungarian photographer André Kertész. Bernadine describes himself as an anti-portrait photographer, since he rarely shows faces, which gives his work that distinct forniphilia/sexual objectification* look. A recurring theme in his work is the mirroring of a female from the waist up/down[3][4].

The Philosopher Illumined by Candlelight – Alva Bernadine (image used with permission of author)

I’ve chosen his work The Philosopher Illumined by Candlelight as the current icon of erotic art. The photo depicts a man in a suit sitting in a darkened bedroom reading by candlelight. The lighted candle is protruding from a woman’s vagina. The picture has elicited comments of sexual objectification and misogyny. Objecters find more “proof” of Bernadine’s “misogyny” over here[5].

On the accusations of misogyny he says:

“I don’t really think about that [accusations of misogyny],” he declares. “Normally, I get an idea for a picture and if I can’t think of a good reason not, I take it. I can’t censor my own stuff.”

“That doesn’t bother me much, … you bring your own experiences to a picture. Sometimes I am surprised at the way they’re interpreted, but every opinion is as valid as mine because I haven’t usually formed an opinion before I’ve taken the shot. It’s only later that I work out the ramification. My work isn’t about subtlety. I need a reaction. It’s better to be a bad influence than no influence at all.”

On his inspiration for Illumined Bernadine commented:

“I once listened to a late night BBC Radio 4 programme called Sex in the Head where people described their sexual fantasies and on it a woman described how she enjoyed her partner reading his newspaper by the light of a candle placed in her vagina.

The image stayed in my head and 2 or 3 years later I was able to find a couple who agreed to model for the picture.”

You can find more by Bernadine at:

*In the forniphilia/sexual objectification/erotic furniture category belong artworks such as Chair, Table and Hat Stand[1] (1969) by Allen Jones and Les Krims‘s Heavy Feminist with Wedding Cake [2] (1970).

What the Butler Saw in Düsseldorf

The butler visited Diana und Actaeon – Der verbotene Blick auf die Nacktheit with a fellow butler and a maid.

He was thrilled to see Étant donnés[1] by Marcel Duchamp. And he did not realize it also looked like this[2]. He saw the famous metal doll sculpture[3] by Hans Bellmer and Bad Boy by Eric Fischl. He saw the most beautiful penis in post-war photography, yes he meant the Robert Mapplethorpe one[4].

He saw and liked photographs[5] of the Linley Sambourne collection, paintings by French figuratist Jean Rustin[6], paintings by Michael Kirkham[7], his first viewing of the fauvist Erich Heckel[8], Phryne[9] by French academic cult painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, waxworks by Belgian sculptor Berlinde De Bruyckere[10], and paintings by Roland Delcol[11].

The butler was also very much taken by Johannes Hüppi[12]; his first viewing of his fave John Currin[13]; his first real Félix Vallotton; and a Lisa Yuskavage[14]. But not that one.

Butler wants you to know that the works he pointed to are for reference only and may not correspond to the works at the exhibition. He also wants you to know that some of the links may be NSFW.

Bettie Page (1923 – 2008)

Bettie Page, Bizarre nr. 14

If your interest goes just a little bit beyond vanilla sex, you’ve probably come across Bettie Page.

Bettie Page (April 22, 1923December 11, 2008) was an American model who became famous in the 1950s for her fetish modeling and pin-up photos, taken by Irving Klaw.


American 2000s documentary


Bettie’s Punishment

The whole of her is Icon of Erotic Art #38.

Bernini @410

Gian Lorenzo Bernini @410

Persephone by Bernini

Pushing against Pluto’s face Proserpina‘s hand creases his skin,

Persephone by Bernini detail

while his fingers sink into the flesh of his victim.

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (December 7, 1598 – November 28, 1680) was a Italian sculptor and architect of 17th century Rome, best-known for his marble sculptures the Ecstasy of St Theresa[1] and the Beata Ludovica Albertoni[2].

Update: The Rape of Proserpina, the Ecstasy of St Theresa[1] and the Beata Ludovica Albertoni[2] are Icons of erotic art #35, 36  and 37.