Monday, 4 January 2010


I love the people who come to my blog. Clever writers and thinkers. Creative people, who gently challenge me and make me consider my opinions. Even if I return to my original idea, and think -- well that’s fine; my friends have helped me to think things through.

I’m referring here, to my last post FEMALE BONDAGE. I’d been playing with the notion that in female bondage in Art, women seem to be passive; they do not fight their tormentors. Whereas in images of male bondage, the men are active; they struggle and fight their oppressors.

I made a massive generalisation.

Janine Ashbless sent me this image of William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s

In the painting, Christ, is passive. He is in chains and is willingly letting the two men beat him. He is not fighting back. A third is tying together bundles of sticks -- presumably to take up beating Christ himself, when one of the other guys tires.

In 1607, Caravaggio paints the same theme. Caravaggio’s Christ is strong and as muscular as the men binding him. He could easily fight back. Yet he succumbs.

It is important to remember here, in both of these paintings, the man who is the focus of attention is Christ. As Janine says, Christ is “ Not Like Other Men.” He is the Son of God. His power is from God. There’s a lot going on; the paintings have a narrative. They tell the story of Christ’s Passion. Christ has an ancient, Old Testament prophesy to fulfil. He also needs to show that he practices what he preaches. Turn the other cheek. What use have his sermons been if he turns, and strikes a blow at his enemies?

People may have been shocked at the pictures. They’re pretty shocking today; but they would have understood the story that the Artists were telling.

This brings me on to Jude Mason’s point. Who is the audience? Who is the reader? Who are the pictures painted for? Men? Women? Are Bouguereau’s and Caravaggio’s paintings homoerotic? The men tormenting Christ, seem to me, to be one step away from violation.; from rape. Are the paintings meant to make us weep, or turn us on?

And then there’s those women, whom I claimed took a passive role in bondage. “The Doc” tells me, not so, and he sent me a couple of Aubrey Beardsley’s dirty pictures. The women here are playfully taking control of the sexual act. Size here is important. The women are huge; they dwarf the men. The women are engaging in activities not usually associated with females. One woman farts in a man’s face; another throws the contents of a piss pot over him. In the other picture, a tiny man masturbates as he powders his lady’s arse.

The Doc, also talks about the “goodness” in the active role. How it is perceived as positive and passivity as negative. Sure, both have aesthetic and erotic qualities, and I’m going to stick to defining those qualities in Art. That’s where I feel safest. I’m on familiar ground. I don’t feel comfortable taking on arguments about ethics and moral philosophy. Not at the moment anyway, and not here.

So, yes, Art. Human beings are complex creatures; sexuality even more so. It maybe that the Artist is getting hard, as he tells the story of Christ’s torment. It maybe the viewer, or both. Or neither. And who is getting turned on by Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings? I’m tempted to say “men!” But really -- who the hell knows?


  1. Hi Billie,

    Going out on a limb here and wondering what the punishment of Christ has to do with dominant or submissive men. He was not suffering for his own pleasure, as is the case with BDSM. He suffered for humanity, or so I was led to believe in my Sunday School teachings.

    Turn this back to the romantic or erotic and I can respond. Add religion and I'm afraid I'm at a loss.


  2. Jude, very few of the "bondage" pictures in classic art (Andromeda chained up to be eaten by a sea monster for example) are about the protagonist's/victim's sexual pleasure. The pleasure lies in the viewer.
    Christ is the examplar of the submissive male: he willingly and deliberately surrenders power and control. No attempt was being made by anyone to say he did this for sexual kicks.

    P.S Billie - you might want to have a wander through this site:

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Jude and Janine -- thank you both so much for your interest and perceptive comments.

    So lets take away religion and the emotionally manipulative story, out of the debate, and see the images as pieces of BDSM. I wasn’t intending to bring religion into the argument anyway. Lets say we know nothing of Christ’s Passion, the cruel, horrible story, and view the paintings as they are, as pieces of erotica or pornography.

    Who is the viewer, the reader? I would argue that both Bouguereau’s painting and Caravaggio’s, are Homoerotic, and they are painted for lovers of that genre; as Janine says, “they are for the pleasure of the viewer.”

    I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone’s Christian sensibilities.

    I don’t like either painting. I think the story they tell is vile, regardless of Christ’s love and sacrifice. Oh, I can admire the beautiful brushwork, the composition and the chiaroscuro. But what I see is a human being; a poor victim, being brutalised; a breath away from being raped, or snuffed, or both. I don’t get off on that, I don’t know anyone who does, thank God.


    The Paintings of Caravaggio: Homoerotic or Reflection of the Period
    Tuesday August 8, 2006
    Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was the most famous painter in early 17th century Rome. His chiaroscuro work has been credited with the birth of Baroque. However, despite numerous famous works, speculation over Caravaggio's sexuality began with the commission of a few paintings for an influential Roman patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte. Some historians see these paintings as "homoerotic" indications of Caravaggio's sexuality, while others say they merely reflect the tastes of his patron at the time. Caravaggio's short temper contributed to his short fame and life before the question of his sexuality could be answered.

    Caravaggio (1571-1610)

    Although no conclusive evidence of Caravaggio's sexuality has survived, derogatory accusations made by contemporaries, coupled with the aggressive representation of male eroticism in his paintings, suggest that the most original painter of early seventeenth-century Europe was actively bisexual, if not primarily homosexual.

    A poet of dramatic stimulation, Caravaggio was fascinated by the intrusion of the divine into the mundane world; in canvas after canvas he used shifting planes of light and dark to fashion a moment of spiritual anagnorisis, that moment of perception that precipitates the reversal of the action in Greek drama.