Erotic art covers any artistic work that is intended to evoke erotic arousal or that depicts scenes of sexual activity. It is a type of erotica and includes drawings, engravings, films, paintings, photographs, and sculptures, and writing.
The definition of erotic art is somewhat subjective, and dependent on context, since perceptions of both what is erotic and what is art vary. For example, a sculpture of a phallus in some cultures may be considered a traditional symbol of potency rather than overtly erotic. Material that is produced to illustrate sex education may be perceived by others as inappropriately erotic. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines erotic art as "art that is made with the intention to stimulate its target audience sexually, and that succeeds to some extent in doing so".
A distinction is often made between erotic art and pornography, which also depicts scenes of sexual activity and is intended to evoke erotic arousal, but is not usually considered fine art. Some draw a distinction based on the work's intent and message: erotic art would be works intended for purposes in addition to arousal, which could be appreciated as art by someone uninterested in their erotic content. US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote that the distinction was intuitive, saying about hard-core pornography which would not be legally protected as erotic art, "I know it when I see it"
Among the oldest surviving examples of erotic depictions are Paleolithic cave paintings and carvings, but many cultures have created erotic art. Artifacts have been discovered from ancient Mesopotamia depicting explicit heterosexual sex. Glyptic art from the Sumerian Early Dynastic Period frequently shows scenes of frontal sex in the missionary position. In Mesopotamian votive plaques from the early second millennium BC, the man is usually shown entering the woman from behind while she bends over, drinking beer through a straw. Middle Assyrian lead votive figurines often represent the man standing and penetrating the woman as she rests on top of an altar. Scholars have traditionally interpreted all these depictions as scenes of ritual sex, but they are more likely to be associated with the cult of Inanna, the goddess of sex and prostitution. Many sexually explicit images were found in the temple of Inanna at Assur, which also contained models of male and female sexual organs, including stone phalli, which may have been worn around the neck as an amulet or used to decorate cult statues, and clay models of the female vulva.
Depictions of sexual intercourse were not part of the general repertory of ancient Egyptian formal art, but rudimentary sketches of heterosexual intercourse have been found on pottery fragments and in graffiti. The Turin Erotic Papyrus (Papyrus 55001) is a 8.5 feet (2.6 m) by 10 inches (25 cm) Egyptian papyrus scroll discovered at Deir el-Medina, the last two-thirds of which consist of a series of twelve vignettes showing men and women in various sexual positions. The men in the illustrations are "scruffy, balding, short, and paunchy" with exaggeratedly large genitalia and do not conform to Egyptian standards of physical attractiveness, but the women are nubile and they are shown with objects from traditional erotic iconography, such as convolvulus leaves and, in some scenes, they are even holding items traditionally associated with Hathor, the goddess of love, such as lotus flowers, monkeys, and sacred instruments called sistra. The scroll was probably painted in the Ramesside period (1292-1075 BC) and its high artistic quality indicates that was produced for a wealthy audience. No other similar scrolls have yet been discovered.
The ancient Greeks painted sexual scenes on their ceramics, many of them famous for being some of the earliest depictions of same-sex relations and pederasty, and there are numerous sexually explicit paintings on the walls of ruined Roman buildings in Pompeii. The Moche of Peru in South America are another ancient people that sculpted explicit scenes of sex into their pottery. There is an entire gallery devoted to pre-Columbian erotic ceramics (Moche culture) in Lima at the Larco Museum.
Additionally, there has been a long tradition of erotic painting in Eastern cultures. In Japan, for example, shunga appeared in the 13th century and continued to grow in popularity until the late 19th century when photography was invented. Similarly, the erotic art of China reached its popular peak during the latter part of the Ming Dynasty. In India, the famous Kama Sutra is an ancient sex manual that is still popularly read throughout the world.
In Europe, starting with the Renaissance, there was a tradition of producing erotica for the amusement of the aristocracy. In the early 16th century, the text I Modi was a woodcut album created by the designer Giulio Romano, the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi and the poet Pietro Aretino. In 1601 Caravaggio painted the "Amor Vincit Omnia," for the collection of the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani.
An erotic cabinet, ordered by Catherine the Great, seems to have been adjacent to her suite of rooms in the Gatchina Palace. The furniture was highly eccentric with tables that had large penises for legs. Penises and vaginas were carved on the furniture. The walls were covered in erotic art. The rooms and the furniture were seen in 1941 by two Wehrmacht-officers but they seem to have vanished since then. A documentary by Peter Woditsch suggests that the cabinet was in the Peterhof Palace and not in Gatchina.
The tradition was continued by other, more modern painters, such as Fragonard, Courbet, Millet, Balthus, Picasso, Edgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Egon Schiele. Schiele served time in jail and had several works destroyed by the authorities for offending contemporary mores with his depictions of nude girls.
Today, erotic artists thrive. Although, in some circles, much of the genre is still not as well accepted as the more standard genres of art such as portraiture and landscape. Erotic depictions in art went through a fundamental repositioning over the course of the 20th century. Early 20th century movements in art such as cubism, futurism, and German expressionism explored the erotic through manipulating the nude to explore multiple viewpoints, colour experimentation, and the simplification of the figure into geometrical components. In the mid 20th century, realism and surrealism offered new modes of representation of the nude. For surrealist artist’s, the erotic became a way of exploring ideas of fantasy, the unconscious and the dream state. Artist’s such as Paul Delvaux, Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst are well known surrealist artist’s that dealt with the erotic directly. In the aftermath of the First World War, a shift away from abstracted human figures of the 1920s and 1930s towards realism took place. Artists such as British Artist Stanley Spencer led this re-appropriated approach to the human figure in Britain, with naked self portraits of himself and his second wife in erotic settings This is explicitly evident in his work Double nude portrait, 1937.
The naked portrait was arguably becoming a category of erotic art that was dominating the 20th century, just as the academic nude had dominated the 19th century. Critical writings on the ‘nude’ and in particular the female ‘nude’, meant fundamental shifts in how depictions of the nude and the portrayal of sexuality were being considered. Seminal texts such as British Art historian Kenneth Clark’s The nude: a study of ideal art in 1956 and Art Critic John Berger in 1972 in his book Ways of Seeing, were re-examining the notion of the naked and the nude within art. This period in art was defined by an acute engagement with the political. It marked a historical moment that stressed the importance of the sexual revolution upon art.
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of social and political change across the United States and Europe. Movements included the fight for equality for women with a focus on sexuality, reproductive rights, the family, and the workplace. Artists and historians began to investigate how images in Western art and the media, were often produced within a male narrative and particularly how it perpetuated idealisations of the female subject. The questioning and interrogation of the overarching male gaze within the historical art narrative, manifested in both critical writing and artistic practice, came to define much of the mid to late 20th century art and erotic art. American Art Historian Carol Duncan summarises the male gaze and its relationship to erotic art, writing “More than any other theme, the nude could demonstrate that art originates in and is sustained by male erotic energy. This is why many ‘seminal’ works of the period are nudes.” Artists such as Sylvia Sleigh is an example of this reversal of the male gaze as her work depicts male sitters presented in traditional erotic reclining poses that usually were reserved for the female nude as part of the ‘odalisque’ tradition.
The rise of feminism, the sexual revolution and conceptual art in the mid 20th century meant that the interaction between the image and audience, and the artist and audience, were beginning to be questioned and redefined, opening up new possible areas of practice. Artist’s began to use their own nude bodies and began to depict an alternative narrative of the erotic, through new lenses. New media was beginning to be used to portray the nude and the erotic, with performance and photography being used by women artist’s, to draw attention to issues of gender power relations and the blurred boundaries between pornography and art. Artists such as Carolee Schneemann, and Hannah Wilke were using these new mediums to interrogate the constructs of gender roles and sexuality. Wilke’s photographs, for instance, satirised the mass objectification of the female body in pornography and advertising.
Performance art since the 1960s has flourished and is considered as a direct response and challenge to traditional types of media and was associated with the dematerialization of the artwork or object. As performance that dealt with the erotic flourished in the 1980s and 1990s both male and female artists were exploring new strategies of representation of the erotic.
The acceptance and popularity of erotic art has pushed the genre into mainstream pop-culture and has created many famous icons. Frank Frazetta, Luis Royo, Boris Vallejo, Chris Achilleos, and Clyde Caldwell are among the artists whose work has been widely distributed. The Guild of Erotic Artists was formed in 2002 to bring together a body of like-minded individuals whose sole purpose was to express themselves and promote the sensual art of erotica for the modern age.
Between 2010 and 2015 sexologist and gallerist Laura Henkel, curator of the Erotic Heritage Museum and the Sin City Gallery, organised 12 Inches of Sin, an exhibition focussing on art that expresses a diverse view of sexuality and challenging ideas of high and low art. The erotic continues to be explored and employed in new types of art work today and the profound developments of the 20th century still underpin much of the prevailing erotic art and artistic intent.
Whether or not an instance of erotic art is obscene depends on the standards of the jurisdiction and community in which it is displayed.
In the United States, the 1973 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Miller v. California established a three-tiered test to determine what was obscene—and thus not protected, versus what was merely erotic and thus protected by the First Amendment.
Delivering the opinion of the court, Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote,
The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
As this is still much vaguer than other judicial tests within U.S. jurisprudence, it has not reduced the conflicts that often result, especially from the ambiguities concerning what the "contemporary community standards" are. Similar difficulties in distinguishing between erotica and obscenity have been found in other legal systems.
Erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum has been both exhibited as art and censored as pornography. The Roman cities around the bay of Naples were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, thereby preserving their buildings and artifacts until extensive archaeological excavations began in the 18th century. These digs revealed the cities to be rich in erotic artifacts such as statues, frescoes, and household items decorated with sexual themes. The ubiquity of such imagery and items indicates that the treatment of sexuality in ancient Rome was more relaxed than current Western culture. (However, much of what might strike modern viewers as erotic imagery (e.g. oversized phalluses) could arguably be fertility imagery.) This clash of cultures led to many erotic artifacts from Pompeii being locked away from the public for nearly 200 years.
In 1819, when King Francis I of Naples visited the Pompeii exhibition at the Naples National Archaeological Museum with his wife and daughter, he was embarrassed by the erotic artwork and ordered it to be locked away in a "secret cabinet", accessible only to "people of mature age and respected morals". Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, the Secret Museum, Naples was briefly made accessible at the end of the 1960s (the time of the sexual revolution) and was finally re-opened for viewing in 2000. Minors are still only allowed entry to the once-secret cabinet in the presence of a guardian, or with written permission.Erotica
Erotica is any literary or artistic work that deals substantively with subject matter that is erotically stimulating or sexually arousing but is not pornographic. Erotic art may use any artistic form to depict erotic content, including painting, sculpture, drama, film or music. Erotic literature and erotic photography have become genres in their own right.
Curiosa is erotica and pornography as discrete, collectable items, usually in published or printed form. In the antiquarian book trade, pornographic works are often listed under "curiosa", "erotica" or "facetiae".Fascinus
In ancient Roman religion and magic, the fascinus or fascinum was the embodiment of the divine phallus. The word can refer to the deity himself (Fascinus), to phallus effigies and amulets, and to the spells used to invoke his divine protection. Pliny calls it a medicus invidiae, a "doctor" or remedy for envy (invidia, a "looking upon") or the evil eye.Fetish art
Fetish art is art that depicts people in fetishistic situations such as S&M, domination/submission, bondage, transvestism and the like, sometimes in combination.
Fetish art can simply depict a person dressed in fetish clothing, which includes undergarments, stockings, high heels, corsets and boots. A common fetish theme is a woman dressed as a dominatrix.
Many of the 'classic' 1940s, 1950s and 1960s-era fetish artists such as Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew began their careers at Irving Klaw's Movie Star News company (later Nutrix), creating drawings for episodic illustrated bondage stories.
In 1946 fetish artist John Coutts (a.k.a. John Willie) founded Bizarre magazine. Bizarre was first published in Canada, then printed in the U.S., and was the inspiration for a number of new fetish magazines such as Bizarre Life. In 1957 English engineer John Sutcliffe founded Atomage magazine, which featured images of the rubber clothing he had made. Sutcliffe's work would inspire Dianna Rigg's leather-catsuit-wearing character in The Avengers, a TV show that "opened the floodgates for fetish-SM images".In the 1970s and 1980s, fetish artists like Robert Bishop were published extensively in bondage magazines. In recent years, the annual SIGNY awards have been awarded to the bondage artists voted the best of that year. Many artists working in the mainstream comic book industry have included fetishistic imagery in their work, usually as a shock tactic or to denote villainy or corruption. The boost that depictions of beautiful women in tight fetish outfits give to the sales of comics to a mostly teenage male comic-buying audience may also be a factor.
In 1950s America comics with bondage or fetish themes began appearing. Around the same time, fetish artists influenced the cartoons of George Petty, Alberto Vargas and others, which featured in magazines like Playboy and Esquire. Arguably the best known example of fetish imagery in comics is the catsuit-wearing, whip-wielding Catwoman, who has been called, "an icon of fetish art".Many S&M, leather and fetish artists have produced images depicting urine fetishism ("watersports"), including Domino, Tom of Finland, Matt and The Hun.Mainstream fine artists such as Allen Jones have included strong fetish elements in their work. An artist whose erotica transcends to mainstream collectors is found in the Shunga and Shibari style works of Hajime Sorayama. Taschen books included artist Hajime Sorayama, whom his peer artists call a cross between Norman Rockwell and Salvador Dali, or an imaginative modern day Vargas. Sorayama's robotic diverse illustrative works are in the permanent collections of the New York City Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as the fetish arts in the private World Erotic Art Museum Miami collection.
The works of contemporary fetish artists such as Roberto Baldazzini and Michael Manning are published by companies such as NBM Publishing and Taschen.History of erotic depictions
The history of erotic depictions includes paintings, sculpture, photographs, dramatic arts, music and writings that show scenes of a sexual nature throughout time. They have been created by nearly every civilization, ancient and modern. Early cultures often associated the sexual act with supernatural forces and thus their religion is intertwined with such depictions. In Asian countries such as India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Japan and China, representations of sex and erotic art have specific spiritual meanings within native religions. The ancient Greeks and Romans produced much art and decoration of an erotic nature, much of it integrated with their religious beliefs and cultural practices.In more recent times, as communication technologies evolved, each new technique, such as printing, photography, motion pictures and computers, has been adapted to display and disseminate these depictions.Homoeroticism
Homoeroticism is sexual attraction between members of the same sex, either male–male or female–female. The concept differs from the concept of homosexuality: it refers specifically to the desire itself, which can be temporary, whereas "homosexuality" implies a more permanent state of identity or sexual orientation. It is a much older concept than the 19th century idea of homosexuality, and is depicted or manifested throughout the history of the visual arts and literature. It can also be found in performative forms; from theatre to the theatricality of uniformed movements (e.g., the Wandervogel and Gemeinschaft der Eigenen). According to Oxford English Dictionary, it's "pertaining to or characterized by a tendency for erotic emotions to be centered on a person of the same sex; or pertaining to a homo-erotic person."This is a relatively recent dichotomy that has been studied in the earliest times of ancient poetry to modern drama by modern scholars. Thus, scholars have analyzed the historical context in many homoerotic representations such as classical mythology, Renaissance literature, paintings and vase-paintings of ancient Greece and Ancient Roman pottery.
Though homoeroticism can differ from the interpersonal homoerotic — as a set of artistic and performative traditions, in which such feelings can be embodied in culture and thus expressed into the wider society — some authors have cited the influence of personal experiences in ancient authors such as Catullus, Tibullus and Propertius in their homoerotic poetry.House of Loreius Tiburtinus
The House of Loreius Tiburtinus (also called the House of Octavius Quartio) is renowned for its meticulous and well-preserved artwork as well as its large gardens. It is located in the Roman city of Pompeii. It, along with the rest of Pompeii was preserved by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius on October A 24, 79 AD. Its Pompeian street address is II, 2, 2-5.I Modi
I Modi (The Ways), also known as The Sixteen Pleasures or under the Latin title De omnibus Veneris Schematibus, is a famous erotic book of the Italian Renaissance in which a series of sexual positions were explicitly depicted in engravings. While the original edition was apparently completely destroyed by the Catholic Church, fragments of a later edition survived. The second edition was accompanied by sonnets written by Pietro Aretino, which described the sexual acts depicted. The original illustrations were probably copied by Agostino Carracci, whose version survives.Joseph and Potiphar's Wife (etching)
Joseph and Potiphar's Wife is a 1634 etching by Rembrandt (Bartsch 39). It depicts a story from the Bible, wherein Potiphar's Wife attempts to seduce Joseph. It is signed and dated "Rembrandt f. 1634" (f. for fecit or "made this"), and exists in two states.Khajuraho Group of Monuments
The Khajuraho Group of Monuments is a group of Hindu temples and Jain temples in Chhatarpur district, Madhya Pradesh, India, about 175 kilometres (109 mi) southeast of Jhansi. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temples are famous for their nagara-style architectural symbolism and their erotic sculptures.Most Khajuraho temples were built between 950 and 1050 by the Chandela dynasty. Historical records note that the Khajuraho temple site had 85 temples by the 12th century, spread over 20 square kilometers. Of these, only about 25 temples have survived, spread over six square kilometers. Of the surviving temples, the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple is decorated with a profusion of sculptures with intricate details, symbolism and expressiveness of ancient Indian art.The Khajuraho group of temples were built together but were dedicated to two religions, Hinduism and Jainism, suggesting a tradition of acceptance and respect for diverse religious views among Hindus and Jains in the region.L'Aurore (Bouguereau)
Dawn (French: L'Aurore), also known as the Girl with a Lily is an oil painting by the French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It was one of his most notable works. Its dimensions are 214.9 × 107 cm.It is exhibited at the Birmingham Museum of Art.La Maja desnuda
The Nude Maja (Spanish: La Maja Desnuda [la ˈmaxa ðezˈnuða]) is a name given to a c. 1797–1800 oil on canvas painting by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. It portrays a nude woman reclining on a bed of pillows, and was probably commissioned by Manuel de Godoy, to hang in his private collection in a separate cabinet reserved for nude paintings. Goya created a pendant of the same woman identically posed, but clothed, known today as La maja vestida (The Clothed Maja); also in the Prado, it is usually hung next to La maja desnuda. The subject is identified as a maja based on her costume in La maja vestida.
The painting is renowned for the straightforward and unashamed gaze of the model towards the viewer. It has also been cited as among the earliest Western artwork to depict a nude woman's pubic hair without obvious negative connotations (such as in images of prostitutes). With this work Goya not only upset the ecclesiastical authorities, but also titillated the public and extended the artistic horizon of the day. It has been in the Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1901.Le Sommeil
Le Sommeil (translated in English variously as The Sleepers and Sleep) is an erotic oil painting on canvas by French artist Gustave Courbet created in 1866. The painting, which depicts lesbianism, is also known as the Two Friends (Les Deux Amies) and Indolence and Lust (Paresse et Luxure).List of sex museums
A sex museum is a museum that displays erotic art, historical sexual aids, and documents on the history of erotica. They were popular in Europe at the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s, the era of the sexual revolution.
Since the 1990s, these museums are often called erotic museums or erotic art museums instead of sex museums.Olympia (Manet)
Olympia is a painting by Édouard Manet, first exhibited at the 1865 Paris Salon, which shows a nude woman ("Olympia") lying on a bed being brought flowers by a servant. Olympia was modelled by Victorine Meurent and Olympia's servant by the art model Laure. Olympia's confrontational gaze caused shock and astonishment when the painting was first exhibited because a number of details in the picture identified her as a prostitute. The French government acquired the painting in 1890 after a public subscription organized by Claude Monet. The painting is on display at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.Shunga
Shunga (春画) is a Japanese term for erotic art. Most shunga are a type of ukiyo-e, usually executed in woodblock print format. While rare, there are extant erotic painted handscrolls which predate ukiyo-e. Translated literally, the Japanese word shunga means picture of spring; "spring" is a common euphemism for sex.
The ukiyo-e movement as a whole sought to express an idealisation of contemporary urban life and appeal to the new chōnin class. Following the aesthetics of everyday life, Edo-period shunga varied widely in its depictions of sexuality. As a subset of ukiyo-e it was enjoyed by all social groups in the Edo period, despite being out of favour with the shogunate. Almost all ukiyo-e artists made shunga at some point in their careers.The Great Masturbator
The Great Masturbator (1929) is a painting by Salvador Dalí executed during the surrealist epoch, and is currently displayed at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.The State Bed
The State Bed (Dutch - Het Ledikant) is a 1646 print by Rembrandt in etching and drypoint. It is also known as Le Lit à la française (The French-style Bed), a title first given to it in Edme-François Gersaint's 1751 Catalogue raisonné de toutes les pièces qui forment l’œuvre de Rembrandt.
It shows a modern couple passionately making love in a four-poster bed, rather than disguising the work with a mythological title. This probably shocked the artist's contemporaries, since he cut his signature from off the printing plate, making impressions from it even rarer than usual. Impressions are held in the Rijksmuseum, the British Museum and the Bibliothèque nationale de France.Tintinnabulum (Ancient Rome)
In ancient Rome, a tintinnabulum (less often tintinnum) was a wind chime or assemblage of bells. A tintinnabulum often took the form of a bronze ithyphallic figure or of a fascinum, a magico-religious phallus thought to ward off the evil eye and bring good fortune and prosperity.
A tintinnabulum was a sort of a mobile with bells attached, and acted as a door amulets. These were hung near thresholds at a shop or house, under the peristyles (around the inner courtyard or garden) by the bedroom, or the venereum, where the wind would cause them to tinkle. Or else they were made to ring like doorbells, a series of them being tied to cord attached to a bell pull.The sounds of bells were believed to keep away evil spirits; compare the apotropaic role of the bell in the "bell, book, and candle" ritual of the earlier Catholic Church. It has also been surmised that oscilla hung on hooks along colonnaded porticoes may have comparable evil-warding intents.Hand-bells have been found in sanctuaries and other settings that indicate their religious usage, and were used at the Temple of Iuppiter Tonans, "Jupiter the Thunderer." Elaborately decorated pendants for tintinnabula occur in Etruscan settings, depicting for example women carding wool, spinning, and weaving. Bells were hung on the necks of domestic animals such as horses and sheep to keep track of the animals, but perhaps also for apotropaic purposes.A number of examples are part of the Secret Museum collection at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.
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