Erotic Art of Europe
The Art History Archive - Erotica

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"In art, immorality cannot exist. Art is always sacred" - August Rodin

Erotica in Art:

Literary or artistic works having an erotic theme; especially, books treating of sexual love in a sensuous or voluptuous manner. The word erotica typically applies to works in which the sexual elementis regarded as part of the larger aesthetic aspect. It is usually distinguished from pornography, which can also have literary merit but which is usually understood to have sexual arousal as its main purpose.

There are erotic elements in literary works of all times and all countries. Among the best-known examples of erotic literature are the Kama-sutra and other Sanskrit literature from about the 5th century AD, Persian lyric poems called ghazals, Ovid's Ars Amatoria, the 16th-century Chinese novel Chin p'ing, William Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, the writings of the Marquis de Sade, and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Pornography and Erotica:

The representation of erotic behaviour in books, pictures, statues, motion pictures, etc., that is intended to cause sexual excitement. The word pornography, derived from the Greek porni (“prostitute”) and graphein (“to write”), was originally defined as any work of art or literature depicting the life of prostitutes.

Little is known of the origins and earliest forms of pornography because it was customarily not thought worthy of transmission or preservation. One of the first clear historical evidences of pornography in Western culture can be found in the salacious songs performed in ancient Greece at festivals honouring the god Dionysius. Indisputable evidence of graphic pornography in Roman culture is found at Pompeii, where erotic paintings dating from the 1st century AD cover walls sacred to bacchanalian orgies. A classic of written pornography is the Roman poet Ovid's Ars amatoria (Art of Love ), a treatise on the art of seduction, intrigue, and sensual arousal.

During the European Middle Ages pornography was widespread but held in low repute, finding expression mostlyin riddles, common jokes, doggerel, and satirical verses. A notable exception is the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio, some of whose 100 stories are licentious in nature. A principal theme of medieval pornography was the sexual license of monks and other clerics, along with their attendant displays of hypocrisy.

The invention of printing led to the rebirth of ambitious pornographic written works. These frequently contained elements of humour and romance and were written to entertain as well as to arouse. Many of these works harked back to classical writings in their treatment of the joys and sorrows of marital deception and infidelity. The Heptameron of Margaret of Angouleme is similar to the Decameron in that it uses the device of a group of people telling stories, some of which are salacious.

In 18th-century Europe there appeared the first modern works that were both devoid of literary value and designed solely to arouse sexual excitement. A small underground traffic in such works became the basis of a separate publishing and bookselling business in England. A classic of this period was the widely read Fanny Hill; or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1749) by John Cleland. At about this time erotic graphic art began to be widely produced in Paris, eventually coming to be known as French postcards.

Pornography flourished in the Victorian era despite, or perhaps because of, the prevailing taboos on sexual topics. In 1834 an investigation in London established the presence of 57 pornographic shops on Holywell Street alone. A notable work of Victorian pornography is the massive and anonymous autobiography My Secret Life (1890), which is both a social chronicle of the underside of a Puritanical society and a minutely detailed recounting of one English gentleman's lifelong pursuit of sexual gratification.

The development of photography and later of motion pictures contributed greatly to the proliferation of pornographic materials. Pornography in the 20th century is unprecedented in the variety of media used and the enormous volume of works produced. Since World War II, written pornography has been largely superseded by explicitvisual representations of erotic behaviour that are considered lacking in redeeming artistic or social values.

Pornography has long been the target of moral and legal sanction in the belief that it may tend to deprave and corrupminors and adults and cause the commission of sexual crimes. Occasionally, important works of art or even of religious significance may be banned by a state or other jurisdiction because they are considered pornographic under such assumptions. Those assumptions have been challenged on legal and scientific grounds. Nonetheless, the production, distribution, or possession of pornographic materials may be prosecuted in many countries under statutes dealing with obscenity.

Artists Known for Erotica:

  • Alquilar, Maria
  • Appel, Karel
  • Avril, Paul
  • Baldung, Hans
  • Franz von Bayros
  • Beardsley, Aubrey
  • Becat, Paul Emile
  • Bellmer, Hans
  • Blaine, Mahlon
  • Blanton, Mark
  • Borel, Antoine
  • Bremer, Uwe
  • Carracci, Agostino
  • Chappuis, Erica
  • Dali, Salvador
  • Delacroix & Gericault
  • Deveria, Achille
  • Dubout, Albert
  • Dubuffet, Jean
  • Fendi, Peter
  • Gil, Javier
  • Godfrey, Yarek
  • Grosz, George
  • Harukawa, Namio
  • Hayashi, Yoshifumi
  • Horacio, Antuna
  • Jito
  • Icart, Louis
  • Lossow, Heinrich
  • Kranichfeld, Katharina
  • Masson, Andre
  • Martin, van Maele
  • Peter, G. N.
  • Marquis de Manasewicz
  • Pichard, Georges
  • Picasso, Pablo
  • Rops, Felicien
  • Pipi, Giulio
  • Royo, Luis
  • Rowlandson, Thomas
  • Weneger, Gerda
  • Schiele, Egon
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