Delta of Venus

After the Renaissance

The Renaissance rather smoothly flowed into the next historical period in art known as Mannerism, which later developed into the Baroque Period, which later developed into the Rococo style.

I'm merging these styles here since none of these movements had clear cut beginnings or endings, rather they were all part of the same smooth transition from the Renaissance to what we know as art today.

Mannerist Erotic Art - 1520 -1580

An Allegory with Venus and Cupid Venus, Love and Jealousy

Mannerism was a fairly brief period in art developed in Italy around 1550. It is often criticized as being a decline in the quality of art after the death of Raphael. This criticism is undeserved.

The term "Mannerism" comes form the Italian "Maniera" meaning style, or manner and so, although there is some debate to its exact meaning, Mannerist artists painted in the style or manner of their Renaissance counterparts. The Renaissance artists, however, looked back to ancient times for their inspiration and were constantly experimenting and improving their style and techniques. So the paintings of the Mannerists were technically brilliant as they had the entire knowledge of the Renaissance to study from. The criticism that Mannerism often attracts is more to do with the composition of the paintings.

Mannerism is characterized by extravagant scenes, elaborate (and somewhat contorted) poses, bright contrasting (some would say clashing) colors and a feeling of business; completely unlike the graceful, balanced and harmonious compositions of earlier artists.

Mannerism can not be simply fobbed off as a period of decline, as there were many highly achieved artists who painted many great paintings, including many fantastic nudes, during this time like Agnolo Brozino's An Allegory with Venus and Cupid.

Baroque Erotic Art - 1600 - 1700

Danae Rembrandt

In response to the Protestant Reformation which began during the Northern Renaissance, the Catholic Church began fighting back with the Counter Reformation, also known as the Catholic Reformation, around 1545. As we saw during the Renaissance, attitudes towards art, and in particular nudity and eroticism in art, became more and more relaxed. The Catholic Church sought to turn back time with the following proclamation from the Council of Trent in 1563.

"...every superstition shall be removed ... all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust... there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous, seeing that holiness becometh the house of God."
- The Council of Trent, 1563

The Mannerist Movement was at it's peak by this time, which was unfortunate for the Church as Mannerism's bright colors, pliable nudes and mythological references were precisely what they didn't want polluting the minds of their followers.

It was clear that a new style of art was required.

The Catholics began to encourage a style that promotes religious themes and in a way that created strong emotional involvement between the viewer and the paintings. Previously most religious works simply static and representative scenes in religious history, almost ignoring the human element. The meaning of these earlier paintings were often lost on the uneducated viewer, which were Counter Reformation's target audience. The new paintings needed to be realistic. They needed to be dramatic. They needed to engage with the viewer.

Unfortunately, there was no place for erotic art in the Counter Reformation's vision, and so there was a decline in the amount of erotic art being painted in Catholic countries.

Fortunately, the Catholic Church wasn't art's only patron. Merchants and traders continued the thrive and with their wealth bought paintings. Trade routes had been established across Asia and to the Americas bringing back wealth to Europe in the form of spices, precious metals and other cargo. The nautical Dutch did particularly well, as did the Portuguese, though unlike the Portuguese the Dutch were Protestant and so their art wasn't under the control of the Catholic Reformation. Several artists continued to paint the nude for private patrons during the Baroque Movement including Rembrandt and Rubens.

Rococo Eroticism- 1700 - 1800

Odalesque by Francois Boucher

Although sometimes considered to be simply "Late Baroque", or even the climax of the Baroque era, Rococo was a distinct and beautiful period in art's history. Whereas the Baroque style served a purpose, Rococo paintings were purely decorative.

The transition started in France around the end of Louis XIV's reign. After his death the Duke of Orleans took over the regency of France until young Louis XV came of age. During this time, the court became far less formal and more intimate.

Rococo came about as a reaction to the solemn and moody Baroque style. By the 1700s many considered it to be a bit of a downer. The aristocracy of France enjoyed indulging in the finer and more delicate things in life and sought comfort and luxury in all its forms. They didn't want to be brought down by the serious style of the Baroque and so the new flowery style of Rococo developed to cater to their fine tastes.

Rococo is characterized by its lighthearted, casual subjects often portraying themes such as love and peace. There was a strong use of pastel coloring, as well as more relaxed brush strokes though with attention to fine detail.

Around 1725, Rococo began to spread across Europe from France. Germany was particularly quick to embrace this new style.

Fragonard The Swing

During the Rococo period, the nude became far more playful and suggestive and there were many significant erotic paintings from this period. Jean-Honoré Fragonard's "The Swing" is a brilliant example of Rococo erotic art. It has all the features that were prominent during this period including the pastel colors, dynamic movement and whimsical setting. One of the elements that makes this such a significant erotic painting is that the subject is fully dressed! From the viewer's perspective there is nothing suggestive, but our friend in the bottom left of the painting will have a much better view. This is a very clever suggestion of eroticism as it is suitable for public display without causing widespread offense though still naughty enough to tickle the loins.

Erotic Artists of this Period

Agnolo Bronzino
Agnolo Bronzino
Marquis de Sade
Marquis de Sade
Rembrandt van Rijn
Rembrandt van Rijn
Francois Boucher
Francois Boucher