Friday, 24 January 2014


Leda and the Swan.

He was born on 29th September 1703 and died on 30th May 1770. François Boucher was one of the most important and prolific artists of the Rococo period. If we think that today we are the first generation to depict erotic works of art, we are misinformed; Boucher painted many erotic paintings throughout his career.

Boucher captures the moment before penetration takes place. Perhaps three sweet exquisite pulse beats of anticipation.

From an early age, Boucher was a student of the early Rococo artist François Lemoyne until 1721 when he began working as an engraver. In 1723 Boucher won the Prix de Rome, an illustrious art scholarship to study in Rome that Boucher's teacher, Francois Lemoyne, also won in 1711. Boucher didn't go to Rome immediately, and continued working as an engraver for Laurent Cars for 300 francs a year, and then travelled to Italy 4 years later in 1727 at his own expense.

Hercules and Omphale.

The viewer is a voyeur of an intensely private moment.

Upon his return to France, he was elected to the Royal Academy where he had much success. He was soon Rector of the Academy, and head of the Royal Gobelins Manufactory in 1755 and "First Painter to the King" in 1765. He was a favourite of the influential mistress of the king Mme de Pompadour, and excelled in painting many of her portraits.

Le Bassin

The oval shape of the painting places the viewer in the position of spy. The viewer is peeping through the keyhole.

Marie-Louise O’Murphy The best known of Boucher's paintings.

Boucher had also painted at least one erotic portrait of another of the King's mistresses, Marie-Louise O'Murphy, in a pose that has become very familiar with Boucher and is known as the "Blonde Odalisque". He made several paintings in this series including the "Brown Odalisque" whose model is thought to be Boucher's wife.

The Odalisque

Her gleaming, white flesh is highlighted by the luscious blue velvet. She waits, vulnerable and exposed for the male.

Many of Francois Boucher's early nudes were tangled up in mythological allegory to avoid criticism -- though as can be seen from his "Odalisques" and other works, Boucher transitioned to more open eroticism.

Le Triomphe de Venus
I think that this is an orgy, rather than a rape. It has the mood of a celebration. The participants are gleeful.

And this one, Raised Skirt; attributed to Boucher. I wonder if he did paint it? And if he didn’t -- well who did? Again the viewer is a spy -- another through the keyhole moment.

Is Boucher painting pornography or erotica? I don’t know, you have to decide that for yourself. I guess it depends on your own subjective interpretation of those words. I think that Boucher wanted to paint works that would arouse the viewer; perhaps even deprave -- just a little. Some of his images rely on fictional representations; narratives that were probably better known in the eighteenth century than they are today. Others are a blatant invasion of privacy, the women are displayed to titillate and are for public consumption in their most intimate moments.

This blog post has been compiled using sources from the web.

Friday, 10 January 2014


I think a lot about pornography. I’ve written about it too; you’ll probably be familiar with my tweets regaling the powers that be that writers and artists have no clear guidelines on what exactly is pornographic. But am I being fair? One girl’s porn is another girl’s erotica. There is stuff that disturbs me profoundly, but may not affect you one teensy weensy little bit.

Let me say right away that I am not talking about “hard core” porn here. I wish that there were not those horrible images of children on the Web. I wish that the sites could be shut down as soon as they pop up. “Snuff” films too. Sites where people can get off on death and torture; that is not what I am talking

A while back I looked at Aubrey Beardsley’s beautiful pornographic art. Beardsley’s lovely pen, ink and brushwork. His images are graceful; elegant. Yet they do convey humiliation; disgrace and depravity. Tiny naked men with massive erections being farted on by huge women. The image of lascivious Salome speaking lovingly to the severed head of John the Baptist hints at necrophilia. And even more tiny men are dwarfed by their own massive erections.

I get the idea that Aubrey Beardsley was not comfortable in Victorian society. That the Victorians were sexually repressed has been well documented. Aubrey Beardsley delights in showing the hypocrisy of the Victorian era; he made people think, then and now, by poking fun at society and its values. And that made me think again. What about social context? Different eras have different values and standards about what is acceptable and not. So does social context justify pornography? Does Aubrey Beardsley’s clever satirization of Victorian sensibilities and values make pornography okay?

How about the Art of Hans Bellmer?

Die Puppe series 1932

Hans Bellmer was born in the city of Kattowitz in 1902. Kattowitz was then part of the German Empire (it is now Katowice, Poland) Until 1926 he’d been working as a draughtsman for his own advertising company. He initiated his doll project to oppose the fascism of the Nazi Party by declaring that he would make no work that would support the new German state. Represented by mutated forms and unconventional poses, his dolls were directed specifically at the cult of the perfect body then prominent in Germany.

He produced the first doll in Berlin in 1933. Long since lost, the assemblage can be described thanks to photographs that Bellmer took at the time of its construction.

The images show Bellmer's assemblage, made of wood, flax fiber, plaster, and glue, under construction in his studio or arrayed on a bare mattress or lacy cloth. Seductive props sometimes accompany the doll—a black veil, eyelet undergarments, an artificial rose. Naked or, in one case, wearing only a cotton undershirt, the armless doll is variously presented as a skeletal automaton, a coy adolescent, or an abject pile of discombobulated parts. In one unusual image, the artist himself poses next to his standing sculpture, his human presence rendered ghostly through double exposure. Here Bellmer's own body seems to dematerialize as his mechanical girl, wigged, with glass eyes, wool beret, sagging hose, and a single shoe, takes on a disturbing reality.

And what of today? There is so much porn available on the Web it is difficult to talk about it constructively. A lot of porn involves children. The police are vigilant, but find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand of sick minds.

We have to talk about the terms and conditions of pornography. I think of the children’s Beauty Pageant industry; it is popular in the US and becoming increasingly popular here in the UK. Children, girls as young as three playing at being mini adults, polished and coiffed. As Melissa Henson argues in her recent op-ed, subjecting young girls to child pageants contributes to the sexualizing of 3-year-olds. For example, a recent episode of Toddlers and Tiaras contained footage of a mother dressing up her daughter like Julia Roberts’ prostitute character on Pretty Woman for a pageant. Furthermore, on both shows, parents are often applying layers of makeup and spray tanning their daughters for performances and dressing the girls in risqué costumes that are just part of the show.

Elizabeth Day, writing for the Observer on Sunday 11th July 2010 interviewed Amber age seven.

“They parade in miniature ballgowns, wear false eyelashes and can be as young as five… We venture into the world of mini beauty pageants to meet the young princesses and their pushy parents.

“To all intents and purposes, Amber is a confident little girl with an array of enthusiasms and interests. But it is hard not to notice as she talks that her eyelids are powdered with gold eyeshadow. Her hair has been styled with two sparkly hairclips and she is wearing a pale pink dress studded with fabric flowers. Later, she will show me a certificate she was given for taking part in the Mini Miss UK competition earlier this year. Because as well as being a normal seven-year-old, Amber is also an aspiring child beauty queen.

Did she enjoy entering the beauty pageant? Amber thinks for a second and then nods her head. Will she be entering any more? "Yes." She pauses, a touch uncertainly. "If Mummy told me to."”

The work of Jake and Dinos Chapman is about as shocking as you can get. Children, girls, sexualized and grotesque. Are the artists saying something about childhood and children as a commodity?

"The job of a work of art is to raise questions about its terms and conditions," said Jake Chapman in an interview with Time Out London. "That’s what we do. We present the viewer with a puzzle. We put an injunction on speedy consumption, by refusing to offer a straightforward aesthetic experience. And to defend the integrity of the work, we produce a bit of turbulence that makes it more than a simple sip – of art." Dinos told Time Out, "By the time we die we will have done everything – flower arranging, pottery, origami… We have no signature style; the work is recognizable for its attitude, not its form."

The age at which very young girls are sexualised is becoming younger and younger.

Jake and Dinos Chapman investigate society’s taboos. Their fiberglass mannequins are unsettling and unnerving; they are meant to be. The girls in their distorted poses stare out blankly; their gaze challenging the viewer.

The Chapman’s images are unpleasant; to say that they are not nice is a terrible understatement.The very existence of the mannequins addresses the very heart of human experience and moral behaviour. We don’t know what to think and we flounder. We are repelled. But surely these grotesque mannequins are nothing to
do with us, are they? The girls eyes lock onto our horrified gaze.

“Don’t you dare judge us;” they are saying. “You created us.”

Thanks to Francis Potts for introducing me to the work of Hans Bellmer. Francis can be found at his blog.

and at Twitter. @Francispotts

Friday, 3 January 2014


It is all womens’ fault. All of it. Everything -- ever since the world began. We are used to blaming Eve, for her disobedience to God‘s holy decree. But we are wrong to do so. Greek mythology blames Pandora for her insatiable curiosity when she opened the pretty box. Wrong again. The fault of womankind and consequently every bad thing that has ever, ever, ever happened, is actually the fault of Lilith -- Adam’s first wife.

There are many stories about Lilith in ancient Hebrew, and Assyrian texts. The stories tell that God created Adam and Lilith at the same time, and out of the same dust. It seems that conflict arose between Adam and Lilith, because Adam insisted that Lilith should lie beneath him during sexual intercourse. Lilith was furious and refused; she was Adam’s equal. She spoke the sacred and ineffable name of God and vanished in a rage, flying off into the air.

Adam was understandably angry and insisted that she return to him. Adam asked God to help him, so God sent three angels, Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof, to find her.

She was eventually found in the Red Sea. The angels threatened her. If she did not return to Adam, her husband, one hundred of her sons would die every day. Lilith countered their threat by telling them to do their worst, retorting that she was created to harm new born children and that is what she would do. But she made an oath that she would not harm a child wearing an amulet with the images of the three angels inscribed on it.

Lilith’s first appearance is probably in ancient Sumer texts; she also is mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. She is older than Judaism and is the most important of a small collection of named female demons in Hebrew legend.

As far as I am able to ascertain, there is only one Biblical reference to Lilith -- in Isaiah 34:14

“Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
goat-demons shall call to each other;
there too Lilith shall repose,
and find a place to rest.
There shall the owl nest
and lay and hatch and brood in its shadow.”

The passage associates Lilith with the night and with repulsive, unclean creatures. I get a sense of her plotting, scheming and finding ways to do harm. She is clearly linked with the demonic world. As stories around her develop, Lilith becomes associated with endangering pregnancy and childbirth -- if she can make things go wrong, she will.

Lilith is also a succubus -- men fear her coming to them in the night, stealing their seed, copulating with them, as they slumber helplessly. She personifies licentiousness and lust.

Even holy men feared Lilith. In the Middle Ages, celibate monks kept Lilith’s night time visits away by sleeping with their hands crossed over their genitals and holding a crucifix.

Kabbalah has a clear view of Lilith.

“Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an unchanging, eternal and mysterious Ein Sof (no end) and the mortal and finite universe (his creation). While it is heavily used by some denominations, it is not a religious denomination in itself. Inside Judaism, it forms the foundations of mystical religious interpretation. Outside Judaism, its scriptures are read outside the traditional canons of organised religion. Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence, and various other ontological questions. It also presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to thereby attain spiritual realisation.”


Through the teachings of Kabbalah, Lilith maintains a status fixed in Hebrew demonology. She leaves a trail of tragic tales wherever she appears. She strangles children in their cribs and she seduces any man she fixes her gaze upon. She is the partner of Samael (Satan) and with him, she rules the forces of evil. She visits her earthly husband, Adam, as the succubus, stealing his seed, and she copulates with Satan. Lilith gives birth to one hundred children a day and is held responsible for populating the world with evil.

Men and babies have no protection against a sexually powerful entity such as Lilith. She personifies female sexuality and her mythology perceives her sexuality as a terrible threat, disruptive and destructive, going against the natural order of things. Lilith disturbs identity, system, order. She has no respect for borders, positions or rules.

These days, her name is unspoken -- either because we don’t know about her, or because we live in the enlightened decades of the twenty first century. We no longer believe in evil entities. But Lilith still lurks as a sinister entity in the minds of biblical commentators and in the teachings of Kabbalah.

“She provides thereby a necessary sexual dimension, which is otherwise lacking, to the Genesis story which, when read in literal terms, portrays Eve not as some wicked femme fatale but as a naive and largely sexless fool.”

Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe “Eve and the Identity of Women”

This blog post was put together using sources from the Web, including Wikipedia, Christopher Whitcombe’s essay and Encyclopedia Mythica. Also ideas from Marina Warner and Julia Kristeva.