The Historical Roots of Eroticism

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The prehistoric caves of Stone Age monuments are truly filled with cave paintings, where figures are drawn from animals: bulls, bison, reindeer, horses and mammoths that inhabited these regions during this period. Among the most famous caves are the Lascaux, France and Altamira in Spain. In Altamira, the largest room has been dubbed the "Sistine Chapel" of prehistory. In a well in the caves of Lascaux, the artist painted a prehistoric human figure showing the penis in erection, which is perhaps the most erotic document known to history.

In Paleolithic art, erotic female predominance is observed from the beginning: representative images abound as the female pubic triangle, expressions of sexual energy and fertility. Obviously also abound images and symbols representing the male such as horns and fish, symbols of sexual potency. Analogies also multiply the spaces where these scenes are painted: the caves and the earth symbolize the mother and protector and fertile womb that houses the man. Thirty thousand years ago, or maybe even more, the Paleolithic man conceived the cosmic or divine nature as a woman. Proof of this are the female figures found by archaeologists, about two hundred, shaped statuette that, represented the ideal woman's body from that era, including the most famous is known as the Venus of Willendorf.

The cult of the woman made perfect sense since they determined the continuity of the tribes in that difficult period, and somehow the fate of the man remained in the woman's fertility. Even in the Paleolithic, the symbol of the Great Mother was the dominant rock art; but the cult of the woman did not last forever as the communities began to be interested also by the male cult, a practice that was continued also in the Neolithic. Thus, the mother goddess and the earth has come to symbolize not only the woman but the union of them with man. However, when the man discovered his social role, brought a big change and the penis became the main object of worship. Note that these civilizations did not see anything obscene in phallic symbols. In agricultural societies, religious life revolved around the Goddess and her divine lover. This union was the reason for fertility and growth of peoples and thus began the annual rites of fertility.

The Venus of Willendorf, also known today as Woman of Willendorf, is stylistically a statuette of a woman discovered in the Paleolithic archaeological site located near Willendorf, Austria. The statuette is not intended as a realistic portrait but rather an idealization of the female figure. The vulva, breasts and belly are extremely large, which implies that has a strong connection to fertility. The arms, very fragile and almost unnoticeable, bending over her breasts and the figure doesn't have a visible face, with his head covered in rolls that can be formed in a braided hairstyle. The nickname, which became known reluctance to question among some current students, who cannot see in this picture with features of obesity, a classic image of Venus. Christopher Witcombe, a professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia for example, says "The ironic identification of these figures with Venus in order to satisfy some current concepts pleasant at the time about what was primitive man, on women and the meaning aesthetic. " Other authors are reluctant to identify her as the goddess Mother Earth culture of Paleolithic Europe. Some suggest that the bulk represents a high social status in a hunter-gatherer society and that, besides the obvious reference to fertility; the image could also be a symbol of safety, success and well-being. The feet of the statue are not carved in order to remain standing by itself. Therefore, we speculate that it was used to be brought by someone instead of just being observed, maybe like an amulet.

Another issue that have been concerning some historicists is the shape of this strange figure. It looks like back then, obesity, far beyond a health problem, is a massive cultural issue which covered much of Paleolithic cultures. Seen as a symbol of sexual power, wealth and fertility, female obesity was celebrated and admired. This explains the strangeness we face as we watch the Venus of Willendorf, was not by chance that this name was gave to this women because at the time this statues were performed, this was the desired standard of beauty for women. This fascinating obsession with female obesity continues up to today in some African regions. The best example is perhaps the tribes that inhabit northern Uganda, where women since they are promised to her future husband, are isolated from the rest of the population and kept in a diet based on whole milk until they are in such a state of obesity that are unable to move. This rite, rather than fertility, such as the Paleolithic peoples, is a symbol of superiority and status between members of the tribe; is not exactly an act of valuing women but a way of showing the economic and social power of man.

Although the cave man looks like a distant ancestor and primitive of what we believe we are, their beliefs and rituals are very similar to people who followed him eras later. The foundations of a society are no doubt created by him and later explored and detailed in the West by the Greeks, and all this in the end also applies to the mechanisms of eroticism.

"The art of the Greek and Romans world is especially rich in works with a strongly erotic content, and by examining a few specimens of these, e see how eroticism gradually became secularized. The god Priapus, for example plays the same role in the Roman pantheon as was given to Min in the Egyptian, and he is therefore represented with an erected penis, above which he sometimes holds a drapery full of fruits in allusion to his function as the god of fertility." (Lucie-Smith,Edward)

In ancient Greece, the phallus, was an object of worship as a symbol of fertility. This finds expression in Greek sculpture and other artworks. One ancient Greek male idea of female sexuality was that women envied penises of males. Wives were considered as commodity and instruments for bearing legitimate children. They had to compete sexually with eromenoi, young male prostitutes, hetaeras and slaves in their own homes.

Homosexuality, in the form of pederasty, was a social institution in ancient Greece, and was integral to education, art, religion, and politics. Relationships between adults were not unknown but they were disfavored and lesbian relations were also of a pederastic nature.

Ancient Greek men believed that refined prostitution was necessary for pleasure and different classes of prostitutes were available. Hetaera, educated and intelligent companions, were for intellectual as well as physical pleasure. Although in Corinth, a port city, on the Aegean Sea, the temple held a thousand consecrated prostitutes, the most expensive women in Greece,that more that prostitutes were also devoted followers of gods.

Also rape usually in the context of warfare, was common and was seen by men as a "right of domination". Rape in the sense of "abduction" followed by consensual lovemaking was represented even in religion: Zeus was said to have ravished many women: Leda in the form of a swan, Danaë disguised as a golden rain, Alkmene disguised as her own husband. Zeus also ravished a boy, Ganymede, a myth that paralleled Cretan custom.

In terms of visual culture, the ancient Greeks often painted sexual scenes on their ceramics, many of them famous for being some of the earliest depictions of same-sex relations and pederasty. But probably the most famous erotic scene on Greek art is the orgy scene on an Attic cup, attributed to Skythes, housed at the Louvre Museum, France.

"So far as Greek artist were concerned, the richest source of erotic imagery was the cult of Dionysus. (…) we do not find these Dionysiac images upon pottery alone; they even appear upon coins - and the coin type was the public statement which a Greek community made about itself. (…) obviously linked to the Dionysiac scenes on vases are those where no religious allusion seems to be intended, and which show erotic scenes of the greatest frankness; for example, heterosexual or homosexual encounters often adorn the centre medallion or border of a cup." (Lucie Smith, Edward)

Greek art often portrays sexual activity, but it is impossible to distinguish between what to them was illegal or immoral since the ancient Greeks did not have a concept of pornography. Their art simply reflects scenes from daily life, some more sexual than others. Carved marble phallus can be seen in places of worship such as the temple of Dionysus on Delos, while a common household item and protective charm was the herm, a statue consisting of a head on a square plinth with a prominent phallus on the front. The Greek male ideal had a small penis, an aesthetic the Romans later adopted. The Greeks also created the first well-known instance of lesbian eroticism in the West, with Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite and other homoerotic works. Greeks were also really interested on theatrical plays, were the erotic theme was always a constant matter to talk about.

Sexuality in ancient Rome generally lacked the modern categories of "heterosexual" or "homosexual." Instead, the differentiating characteristic was activity versus passivity, or penetrating versus penetrated. Romans thought that men should be the active participant in all forms of love. Male passivity symbolized a loss of manliness, the most prized Roman virtue. This is in stark contrast to the Pederasty in ancient Greece, in which young boys became men through relations with adult males. It was socially and legally acceptable for Roman men to have sex with both female and male prostitutes as well as young slaves, as long as the Roman man was the active partner. Laws such as the Lex Scantina, Lex Iulia, and Lex Iulia de vi publica regulated against homosexual love between free men and boys, but these laws were frequently violated and rarely enforced, with men performing the passive role and vice versa. If the laws were ever enforced, the partner punished would be the passive male, not the active male. A man who liked to be penetrated was called "pathic", roughly translated as "HYPERLINK ""bottomHYPERLINK """ in modern sex terminology, and was considered to be weak and feminine.

In the other hand, women were not granted freedom of sexuality. Men considered female homosexuality disgusting and dangerous. A woman who wanted to be an active partner in intercourse was a tribade. In literature few accounts of love between women exist through the eyes of women, so we only know the viewpoint of Roman men.

Multiple ancient Roman authors wrote about love affairs between men, including Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. Catullus wrote of his love for the young man Juventius, while Tibullus dedicated two elegies to his lover Marathus and wrote particularly about how devastated he was that Marathus had left him for a woman.

"Yet, if the religious respect for sexuality was to take on some strange guises in the late Greek and Imperial Roman world, it was far from dying out. The superb frescos in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii supply a case in point. (…) the scene runs in continuous narrative sequence, and there is an intermingling of gods, demigods and mortals. We pass from "the Reading of the Ritual" and "The Sacrifice" to the complex Dionysiac group which occupies the centre wall. In the midst is the god, reclining upon the lap of his consort, Ariadne. At the foot of her throne, a girl begins to unveil an object which stands in a winnowing basket. It is a huge phallus that is revealed, and above this sacred object in its container stands a winged genius with a whip, about to lash the girl-initiate who kneels trembling to receive the blow. What here seems to be signified- as the veil, too, tells us - is a virgin's defloration." (Lucie-Smith, Edward)

In the field of the visual arts, there are numerous sexually explicit paintings and sculpture from the ruined Roman buildings in Pompeii and Herculaneum. The Warren Cup illustrates the homosexual and pederastic nature of Roman sexuality. Sex acts that were considered taboo were depicted in baths for comic effect. Large phalli were often used near entryways, for the phallus was a good luck charm, and the carvings were common in homes. Other famous examples include The Satyr And The Goat, the Venus Anadyomene, the Priapus from the House of the Vettii and the so-called tintinnabula, bronze phallic wind chimes.

In the field of literature there are the proto-novels by Ovid, Apuleius, Petronius, poetry by Juvenal, Martial, Catullus, Propertius, Tibullus, as well as the anonymous collection the Priapeia; and plays by Plautus and Terrence, both influenced by Menander.

Although there is generally a common misunderstanding of Roman society as overtly sexual, due in part to artistic and literary depictions of graphic sexual interaction and activity, the Romans did in fact live with the restriction of moral standards and sexual taboos even before the emergence of Christianity. What was considered socially acceptable in regard to sexuality most likely developed around the Romans' marriage customs and views and was strongly influenced by their economic and political systems as well. For the sake of defining property rights and the legitimacy of children, marriage was a crucial unit in society, but it was not necessarily considered a sacred institution from a moral or religious perspective. Though marriages were held to rather rigid legal standards, the intimate activities of a husband and wife were not as strict, and it was common and acceptable for a husband to seek sexual satisfaction from others beside his wife. Women, however, as indicated on traditional Roman epitaphs, were expected to respect the rules of fides marita and remain faithful to their husbands. There is even evidence that Octavian, shortly after he became emperor, enacted laws that made adultery a criminal offense for women.

Woman on Western Art

Women were originally the forces of nature, both the benign and the destructive, all stemming, as later myth suggests, from the earth itself, or rather herself, the Earth Mother, the Mother Goddess. Her offspring are everything from storms to magic glades in the woods. It has been argued that in prehistory, the Eastern Mediterranean, and perhaps all of Old Europe, honored as the principal deity the Mother Goddess. Feminists would like to believe that civilization under the Mother Goddess was fundamentally different from that organized under a male God. This may be so. The last remnants of the Mother Goddess culture, it has been suggested, are seen on Minoan Crete around 1500 BCE. The matrilineal culture of ancient Egypt may also be a feature of a prehistoric society devoted to the Mother Goddess. It can be argued that the Kore figures of Archaic Greece may also be survivors of a culture now disappeared. What happened to the Mother Goddess?

       A current theory is that tribes invading the eastern Mediterranean, and later other parts of Old Europe, from the east, or north-east, brought with them aggressive male gods. The Mother Goddess, perhaps already by then fracturing into various aspects in the form of local female deities, was replaced in time by a dominant male god. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, of course, the dominant male god remained singular and omnipotent.

       In ancient Greece, the god Zeus emerged triumphant, but there were also several other gods. The male god of the ancient Hebrews, ancient Christians, and ancient Greeks, effectively usurped the creative powers of the Mother Goddess, claiming for himself the female ability to produce offspring. The power of the Mother Goddess was undermined and dissipated in various ways. Instead of collected in one immensely threatening figure (threatening to males, that is), her power was divided up, and thereby weakened, among various female goddesses: Athena, Aphrodite, Hera, Hestia, and Artemis.

       The Kore figures represented the last manifestations of the reverence for the Mother Goddess. It became the project in Greece, as it had been in Egypt and Mesopotamia, to unseat the Goddess and to establish male hegemony.

       Already during the Archaic period, a new role was being defined for women, following the model so successfully established in Mesopotamia which demoted the Mother Goddess to the role of mere spouse to some male god, and concomitantly removed women from all spheres of powers.

       The Goddess, of course, lingers, being too deeply rooted in the human psyche to be eradicated entirely. By the end of the Bronze Age, though, she is ceases to wield her former power and women find themselves playing a distinctly subordinate role in the process of state formation and the definition of culture. The Goddess remains, and will persist, but she is no longer defined in her own terms; it is men who define who she is, and it is men who define who women are and determine their role in society.

       Women in the ancient world are primarily wives of men who spend the lives in the home looking after their husbands and their husband's children. When women were depicted in painting or sculpture, it was in this role of dutiful wife and housekeeper.

       Other women, not the wives, were also depicted in ways which focused on their sexuality, and seen entirely from a male perspective. In many images painted on pottery, women were shown nude, often engaged in bathing themselves, which not only provided an "excuse" to show her naked, but also catered to a long-lived fascination men have had with the private toilet of women; for the next two thousand years, women bathing is to remain one the principal subjects of western art. The scene, though erotically fascinating for men, does little for the dignity and privacy of women. These images of nude women shown bathing, or entertaining men at banquets, or having sex with men, creates for both men and women a female identity which stands at the opposite extreme of the women as dutiful spouse. Neither role is representative of women as human beings who have minds of their own. She is either a house-keeping baby-machine or an erotic sex object. This sort of dichotomy will persist with variations throughout western history.

       Towards the end of the 6th century, as Greek civilization begins to enter the so-called Classical period, we begin to see in mages painted on vases (a significant field for art at this time), the representation of women not as embodiments of the mighty and mystery of the Mother Goddess but as objects available for the use and pleasure of men.

Since the Renaissance, the nude has remained an essential focus of Western art. Whether embracing or refashioning classical ideals, artists from the seventeenth century to the present have privileged the nude form and made it an endlessly compelling means of creative expression.

"The Renaissance is often thought of a representing a return to pagan hedonism, after the Christian asceticism of preceding centuries (…) as the sixteenth century drew to an end, realism and the need for realism became important issues in the visual arts (…) certain realistic tendencies did survive in the art of Northern Europe. This was especially true of the leading masters of the German Renaissance: Durer's drawing of the Women's Bath is an often-cited example. The composition is not only realistic but positively voyeuristic; it is as if the artist had been peering at his subject-matter through a crack in the wall of the bath house. The drawing and the print make a fascinating and instructive comparison with Le Bain Turc, by Ingres (…) looked at from one point of view, all these attempts at realism were part of the heritage which northern artist in particular received from the Middle Ages (…) the realistic impulse which seized hold of Italian art during the last decade of the sixteenth century, and then spread elsewhere - to Flanders and to Spain, for example - was something rather different (…) art now tried to define life as it really was, rather than present a remote dream-world (…) finally, and this is the quality which we most commonly associate with Baroque painting and sculpture, there was a new kind of the sensuality in art, more direct and more opulent than that of the Mannerists. It was as if men had begun to trust their senses more. The result was a blurring of the strict division between body and spirit which Mannerism had often been at pains to establish (…) the result of these tendencies is that erotic feeling is diffused and generalized through nearly all the characteristic products of the Baroque." (Lucie-Smith, Edward)

In Baroque art, the continuing fascination with classical antiquity pressed artists to renew their approach to the nude and the antique tradition.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as esteem for classical culture ran high, so too did the prestige of the nude. The academies of the period directed young artists to develop their skills by drawing the naked form of ancient sculpture as well as live models, and many successful artists continued such exercises long after their student days. Nudes are ubiquitous in the ambitious history paintings of the period as well as sculpture and decorative schemes. Proponents of the neoclassical style made nudes closely based on ancient examples, like Canova's Perseus, which repeats the pose and body type of the widely admired Apollo Belvedere. Artists associated with the Romantic HYPERLINK ""Movement assumed a freer attitude to the nude and to antique subject matter more generally. Camille Corot, for instance, included mythological tales in some of his landscapes; an early example represents the woodland spring where the goddess Diana among bathing nymphs prepares to punish Actaeon for catching sight of her naked. So as not to offend nineteenth-century morals, artists tended to depict naked figures within contexts removed from the everyday, such as mythology or the imagined Orient, and yet the careful constraints imposed on the nude somehow heighten its eroticism, as in Alexandre Cabanel's Birth of Venus.

When academic ideals faced challenges in the later nineteenth century, the delicate status of the nude was quickly exposed and subverted.

"The rigid religious wall that had been built around sex and the sexual organs was slowly in crumbling. As for sex education, with the exception of some of the bride's and pillow books of Japan and China (…) it was only through the erotic painters that the joys of sex were visualized, and only through erotic writers that the foundations of psychology and sex education were established. For the most part, morals and manners were split during the 19th century. There were good women and bad women. Possibly because most of the rules and the laws were made by men, this difference did not seem to extend to males. Good women were virgins until they married, and their sex relationship with their husbands was considered a duty. The morals of a woman who enjoyed sex with her husband were suspect - as property, she was expected merely to submit. This attitude, world-wide in the early 19th century, began to erode only in France and England. With sexual pleasure denied and masturbation considered a sin(…) a moral and sexual revolution had to be the ultimate result. " (Smith.B.

"The 20th century may easily become known as the century in which true sexual freedom came within the gasp of everyone. Not that everyone is willing to accept this freedom, but the philosophers, scientist, artist and writers have laid a solid foundation for a new view of human sexuality (…) Freud went many steps deeper into human sexuality. He advanced the theory that thus aberrant behavior, once understood, could then be translated into normality." (Smith.B)

"It seems incredible that within 70 years so much cultural acceleration has separated sex from superstition, mythology and religion, and has placed sexual enjoyment at the top of the legitimately recognized pleasures available to everyone." (Smith.B)

"If Fanny Hill went to court today, she would most likely be considered an underprivileged girl with voyeuristic leanings and mild nymphomania. Casanova and Don Juan, rather than sexual criminals, would more likely be adjudged compulsive playboys. And both Leopold Sacher-Masoch and the Marquis de Sade would be advised to get psychiatric help. The traditional guardians of morality, church and state, have been so beleaguered by the great artists and writers (…) that censorship began to lose ground early in the 20th century, and even though a new conservatism attempts to impose restrictions on painting and writing from time to time, the masses of people have had a taste of sexual freedom, like it - and show no inclination toward giving it up." (Smith.B)

"With the surrealism as its father and the comic strip as its mother, Pop art was born in England in the late 50'. (…) The best artists of this period saw the commercial exploitation of sexuality and created yet another way of viewing sexual behavior. Pop art offered more to erotic painting than this, however. It reflected the knowledge ability and uncomplicated acceptance of varying forms of sexual imagery, commercial as well as non-commercial. " (Smith.B)

The Themes and Symbols


Over the centuries, homosexuality was permitted, prohibited and persecuted or tolerated. And art is a good example of this. For centuries, artists have devoted themselves to represent their work in the reality of day to day. And there are few who create works in which one way or another homosexuality is present.

Since a homosexual couple was represented in its Egyptian tomb in which they are buried, many works with homosexual content were created over the centuries, sometimes clearly and others covertly.

Later, in ancient Greece, homosexuality was an accepted practice among all citizens of the several Greek polis. Besides the classic sculpture, there are other examples, such as cups and ceramic objects which are represented by consecutive time sexual acts between same-sex partners.

There is little information on the prevalence of homosexual sex between Roman females, but evidence suggests that there was a much stronger taboo surrounding sex between two women than between two men. Restrictions on sexuality, specifically female sexuality, varied between social classes; women of lower social status, as well as slaves, were permitted greater sexual freedom and held to less rigid standards than those of the upper classes. In the other way, homosexuality was still present in everyday life with the permittivity of the relationship between two men. Two of the best preserved cities of ancient Rome, Pompeii and Herculaneum, allow us to see beautiful fresh erotic scenes where they appear in nature homosexuality.

Unfortunately, with the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe has receded in time and lived a time of total darkness, in which the catholic moral banished any reference to homosexuality in art.

It is only in the Renaissance when even eroticism, sexuality and the naked, in principle heterosexual, reappearing shyly in different parts of Europe.

Obvious are the nudes of the Renaissance artists, on his return to classic models, the naked or the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, or the two young men who fondle represented by Bartolommeo Cesi.

In the city of Florence the artists begin to create works with gay content, ulterior motives in his paintings, on the fringe of the main scene. Also at this time returns to the scene, who later served as a gay icon, the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.

Having reached the century. XVII, the love scenes of women began to fill the tables, but not until the sec. XX reality gay retract with total freedom in contemporary art.


"(…) with the triumph of Christianity, the orgiastic eroticism of the cults fashionable in the third-century Rome was utterly defeated, consigned to the category of "pagan abominations", and enthusiastically denounced by the Fathers of the Church (…) christians fear of sex, and contempt for the body, are frequently expressed in a way that graphically expresses he attraction of what was feared and despised. Sometimes the artist's reaction was almost wholly sadistic (…)" (Lucie-Smith, Edward)

"Christian saints provided subject matter that allowed artists to reveal tormented bodies wracked y agony and ecstasy - the latter emotions apparently being considerate permissible when it was directed toward the ethereal love of an abstract deity rather than toward the carnal love of another human's person. So a virile young St. Sebastian's nude body was shown pierced by arrows, St. Agatha displayed her severed breasts on a platter, and multiple sexual titillations temptingly surrounded St. Anthony, while Hell provide a setting but fascinating orgy. (…) There was nothing new in the subject matter of 18th-century erotic art. The Greeks and Romans had shown cunnilingus, fellatio, sodomy, and all the variations of heterosexual and homosexual relationships. What was new , in the 18th century, was the ever-increasing audience that sought sexual information through art." (Smith.B.)

"One of the most important erotic novel of the 19th century, Venus in pelz (Venus in Furs), the heroine binds her lover and beats him to the point of orgasm. There has been erotic paintings illustrating this theme before Sacher-Masoch, and his works had no great literary quality. Yet he brought into focus the principle of pleasure from punishment and, as the word sadism derived from the earlier works of the Marquis de Sade, the word masochism derived from the woks of Sacher-Masoch. Despite the cyclic repressions of human sexual liberty that occurred during the 19th century, there was a slow and continuous movement in the directions of more realistic, open attitudes toward sexual enjoyment." (Smith.B)


Throughout Greek mythology, the apple has been a symbol for both love and discord. After Hera accepted Zeus proposal, she was bestowed with the gift of a gleaming fruit tree bearing golden apples. Although depicting contrasting symbolic meanings, the sacred golden apples have had a significant role in throughout the legends of Greek myths.

In contrast to the aggressive Greek culture, the more passive Norse mythology gave the golden apples a more positive symbolic role. The culture believed in a strong association between apples and one's resurrection. Upon a loved one's death, bodies were buried with baskets of apples. The accompaniment of the fruit was intended to ensure a safe journey to the other side, and provide hope for the spirit's rebirth.

One of the most well known uses of the apple in myth is apparent in the Christian account of the Old Testament. Throughout Christianity, the apple was perceived as the forbidden fruit, and eating of it allowed humans to experience and understand grief, sorrow, hunger, and pain. The apple was a symbol for man disregarding his faith in God, and his surrender to curiosity and temptation.

Another famous utilization of the symbol of the apple appears in fairy tales like in the story of Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs that was made infamous by the Grimm Brothers in the 18th century. Many versions, however, of this fairy tale had been told throughout Europe for many centuries prior. The abundance of symbolism within this celebrated children's story is amazing, and the apple plays a prominent role within it. The apple has been promoted as having an erotic nature throughout history and the symbolism behind that belief can be seen within this story. The poisonous apple Snow White was given by her evil stepmother can represent her budding sexuality as a young woman, and her stepmother's jealous nature. The Queen, who is jealous of Snow White's obvious beauty plans to kill her by making her eat the red skin of the apple, representing jealousy while the evil step mother eats the juicy whiteness inside, a representation of youth and beauty; inevitably the skin, or Queen's jealousy, over powers the young princess and throws her into a deep slumber.

Another version of the apple's symbolism in this story has been concocted over the centuries. One that states the apple holds a symbol of greed, temptation and sin; much like the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden from the Bible.


"The third force in later nineteenth century art remains to be discussed: the tendency which art historians have now begun to label "Symbolist", by analogy with the symbolist movement in literature (…) many of the themes most favoured by the Romantics were indeed taken up and used again bu their Symbolist successors - the beauty at the Medusa and the vampire, the fascination with evil and with the idea of the fatal woman (…) another stiking feature of (…) art is the emphasis on sensual cruelty and suffering, carried a stage further even than In Delacroix. The Sphinx, Salome, St. Sebastian, Helen - all of these are among those themes (…) Messalina will serve in the place of Salome, for both are belles dames sans merci. " (Lucie- Smith, Edward)

The femme fatale archetype exists, in the folklore and myth of nearly every culture in every century. early examples are Eve, Lilith, Delilah, and Salome from the Judaea-Christian Bible. In ancient Greek literature, the femme fatale is incarnated by Aphrodite, the Siren, the Sphinx, the medusa, Scylla, Circe and Clytemnestra. Beside them is the historical figure Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, with her ability to seduce the powerful men of Rome. Roman propaganda attacked Cleopatra as a femme fatale; as a result, she became the legendary archetype of the attractions and the dangers inherent to the powerful, exotic woman.

The femme fatale as an archetypal character also existed in Chinese myths, stories and history, certain concubines (such as the historical Yang Guifei) have been accused of being responsible in part for the weakening and downfall of dynasties, by seducing her lover into neglecting his duties or twisting him to her will.

In the Middle Ages, the idea of the dangers of female sexuality, typified by Eve, was commonly expressed in medieval romances as a wicked, seductive enchantress, the prime example being Morgan le Fay.

The femme fatale flourished in the Romantic period in the works of John Keats, notably "La Belle Dame sans Merci" and "Lamia". Along with them, there rose the gothic novel. This led to her appearing in the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and as the vampiress, notably in Carmilla and Brides of Dracula. To Marquis de Sade the femme fatale symbolized not evil, but all the best qualities of Women, with his novel Juliette being perhaps the earliest wherein the femme fatale triumphs. Pre-Raphaelite painters frequently used the classic personifications of the femme fatale as a subject.

In the Western culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the femme fatale became a more fashionable trope, and she is found in the paintings of the artists Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, Franz von Stuck and Gustave Moreau. During the 19th century, the nude proliferated as a genre just as it had in earlier art, despite conceptions that a prudish society dominated the time period. However, nudes often required some distance in its depiction in order to avoid condemnation, either by a title from mythology or an eroticized subject matter. Sometimes, the bodies themselves showed this removal from the realm of the real by omitting pubic hair or the genitals altogether. Thus, even artworks that barely fulfilled these requirements or even hid behind them in their barest terms, could bring the highly sensual femme fatale to prestigious exhibitions.

What consequences were there for their programmatic treatment of the female subject? What impact did their art have in the ideas of woman of this century, her body and her sexuality?

The image of the femme fatale became a crucial figure in the Pre-Raphaelites' vocabulary as well as that of the Decadents. She allows that artists gazed at women of a curious frigidity, cold but sensual, erotic but invulnerable. And that their attitudes are piped with a fear of female malevolence, and characteristically they attempt to control this fear by boiling down the variety of the individual experience into the image of a single symbolic figure. However, we can also understand that in this femme fatale costume, women are rendered decorative, depersonalized; they become passive figures rather than characters in a story or drama, women are reduced to an aesthetic arrangement of sexual parts, for male fantasies.

Such a treatment, therefore, not only objectified the woman but also dismembered her body and her identity; the artistically rendered woman is no longer an individual person but really the pleasing arrangement of shapes and light, to substitute for flesh.

Indeed, when taking the femme fatale as an object, scopophilia occurs on two levels. The first being the artist upon his nude or clothed model and the second, the viewer upon the art object. Scopophilia takes other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze. Superficially, it reaffirms control in the hands of those who look while taking it away from the object looked at. However, the victims of this voyeurism still retain a certain amount power over the viewer, who is enthralled with fascination. The very proliferation of the femme fatale in art and literature asserts that attempts to conquer her in formulas and reductions of words, paint or stone only succeeded partially. Even dismemberment through stylization meant that the powers of the femme fatale weighed heavily upon the artists who created her and the audiences who read or looked at her.


One might argue that the whole history of art is a visual story of an infinite act of voyeurism in which the deepest human longings, fears, and dreams provide and embody the artist's genius and inspiration. In catching glimpses of random, spontaneous and profoundly intimate moments of human life and human relations and further exposing them in artwork, an artist plays the role of a voyeur. Yet, the ultimate artistic goal is not necessarily to bring a sexual excitement to the viewer. Rather, artists seek to uncover the hidden culture of sex and the erotica making it visible and accessible for a broader audience to show that such sexuality has always been a primary source of inspiration in both the art of aesthetic and the art of living.

According to George Bataille, the power of eroticism is in that it fundamentally "presupposes man in conflict with himself". The power of eroticism in artwork lies particularly in its ability to unleash one's fantasies while it still allows one to stay in disguise, as a voyeur, a secret intruder.


"(…)In the 19th we get the impression that nudity was uncommon in both orgies and dalliance, and that a lifted skirt and opened trousers were considered more provocative than expanses of bare skin." (Smith.B.)

"Social evolution, like biological evolution, sometimes involves sudden change but more often comes about gradually. In the 19th century the slow change from erotic painting based on symbolism to that involving more realistic attitudes finally became announced (…) These, then, were dilatory evolutionary changers, an abrupt change in erotic art also came, with the introduction of women's drawers. Women were slow to adopt them at first, but by 1825 drawers were generally worn by the upper class, the middle class and many of the peasants in Europe. There is no question but that the advent of drawers was responsible for great changes in style and in the status of women. Skirts began to rise slowly, almost imperceptibly. There was still an obsession with layers after layers of clothing. The church, the doctors, the stylists all saw to that. The flesh-and-blood woman vanished. Even prostitutes charged extra for taking off their clothing, partly because of the trouble involved and partly because nudity was generally considered a perversion. This conspiracy to hide the female body was world-wide (…) there were corsets and endless underskirts and, in addition, veils, hats and gloves. Even though drawers were almost universally worn, they were never mentioned (…) only the artist was interested in bringing back the woman who was hidden under the disguise of fashion. " (Smith. B.)

"By mid-century drawers became visible, with the introduction of a dance that might be considered the most sexually liberating influence of the 19th century in Europe. That was the cancan. Not only were drawers flaunted, but it could now be clearly seen that women had two legs and that they were capable to moving then in may attractive ways. Toulouse-Lautrec not only celebrated the cancan in his widely distributed porters', but he was among the first of the 19th century artist to create compassionate paintings of prostitutes and lesbians." (Smith, B)

"And then there is the erotic illusion of the fur coat. According to Freud, the fur coat derives its fetish power by analogy with the pubic hair. Jewellery, tattoos and shoes can also cast intoxicating erotic spells. And not to be discounted are the mutilated feet of Chinese women, the hunchback who brings good luck, and the one-leg whore with her endless stream of clients." (Nèret, Gilles)

Other topics that will be worked:

- The serpent charmer

- Erotic art symbols used in publicity (comparisons)

- Portrayal of women on contemporary publicity


- Some topics only have the quotes done; those parts usually are when the most important comparisons are going to be done.

- The draft does not have footnotes for citations; that it will be done in the final phase of work.

- The work don't have an index yet because as I'm reading new material, I've been finding new information to work with, but the bone structure of the work is already organized with the underlined subjects : The Historical Roots of Eroticism, Woman on Western Art and finally The Themes and Symbols.