• Rococo | History of Erotic Art

    Rococo – as specific and attractive as its name, is a combination of art, politics, thirst for passion and lust. Every of the above-mentioned keywords define the 18th-century movement in art. Rococo,...

    Rococo – as specific and attractive as its name, is a combination of art, politics, thirst for passion and lust. Every of the above-mentioned keywords define the 18th-century movement in art. Rococo, from the French word rocaille, meaning “shell and rock garden ornamentation,” also known as “Late Baroque,” is a reaction to the Baroque itself. What preceded the Rococo style, in the eyes of the artists, was seen as death to the freedom of expression and the source of all artistic limitations. Louis XIV’s longing to emphasize his dominance and the eminence of France has been shown through the grand and formal artworks of the seventeenth-century French art. Baroque was the “slave” of this “glorifying power and politics” art, used to express the King’s pompousness.

    Rococo painting by Francois Boucher | Heracles and Omphale (1735)
    Francois Boucher | Heracles and Omphale (1735)

    In 1715 the French people welcomed their new king; Louis XV, a kid just five years of age succeeded his granddad Louis XIV, the Sun King, who had made France the superior force in Europe. His ravenousness for magnificence and vivaciousness was immense, so he put aside the devotion at Versailles and the strict art upheld and earlier used by Louis XIV to express the King’s power. France moved in the opposite direction of supreme desires, to concentrate on more individual and pleasurable interests. As political life and private ethics loosened, the change was reflected by another style in craftsmanship, one that was personal, brightening, and frequently erotic. The Rococo style was born. Starting with the decorative arts, Rococo emphasized pale and subtle colors, curves, and patterns mostly covered with motifs of flowers, vines, and shells. Painters turned from grandiosity to the exotic surface pleasures of shading and light, and from profound religious and historical subjects—however, these were never disregarded totally—to more personal legendary scenes, perspectives of everyday life, and picture.

    Rococo painting by Antoine Watteau | Le Faux Pas (1717)
    Antoine Watteau | Le Faux Pas (1717)

    The one, in which artists went farthest in the Rococo era, was the liberation to present eroticism in a different way, however, very courageous of them in this period. Running away from the political rules and frames, Rococo has awakened the passion in humans; not that people before weren’t sexually conscious, but art gave them what they couldn’t afford – freedom. Pride, power, and the figure of a lady, except being synonymous with royal France, have now become a synonym with the works of Rococo style too. Eroticism is taken at a high level; it is not displayed only through pure nudity, on the contrary, the Rococo style is rich in erotic clothing, and some naked parts of the body. Eroticism is a symbol of passion, lustful and emotional storms, sexuality, sexual desires, dreams, and fantasies. Rococo erotica is the longing of a bourgeois French lady, boost to the male organ and orgasm for the mind of the artist.

    This artistic style is witty and cunning; on one hand, there are the innocence and simplicity of French life shown by pastel colors and the use of refined, disenchanted ornaments, while the other side shows “sweet debauchery.” We do not see the Sodom and Gomorrah led by courtesans, royal servants, and dependents; so clearly, Rococo style gives us a picture of a quiet, peaceful France. If we go a little deeper and further, we can realize that the pastel colors and powder pink roses are perhaps a symbol of women’s bare skin. Lush gardens and fountains are the splendor of a woman hidden under long ball and masquerade dresses.

    Rococo painting by Francois Boucher | Blonde Odalisque (1752)
    Francois Boucher | Blonde Odalisque (1752)

    The Golden Three of Rococo are the artists: Antoine Watteau, Francois Boucher and Jean-Honore Fragonard – the only three who looked at baroque in the face and instead of following the king’s terms, embraced eroticism as their eternal love. Watteau’s courage is seen in the fête Galante paintings, in which he showed the ludic and erotic side of the French aristocracy. A good example of “dressed erotica” is his picture Le faux pas (1717) that screams out sexual desire, passion, seduction and love.

    Boucher was the erotic “messenger” in Rococo style.

    He enjoyed painting the female body, as it is; curvy, exuberant and naked. Through the painting of his female acquaintances or wife, Boucher expresses femininity and passion.

    Rococo painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard | The Swing (1767)
    Jean-Honore Fragonard | The Swing (1767)

    In the end, Fragonard knew how to play with the mind and the eye of the consumers of his art; The Swing, his most famous work, shows a seemingly ordinary day for the French bourgeoisie. A woman enjoying a swing with her servant and in front of her lays a man whose gaze is directed under her skirt. This covered eroticism tickles the imagination; what is hidden in the minds of the two lovers? Many “cat and mouse” games are used in the art of Rococo. Pastel colors, beautiful gardens and lush flowers cover the then erotic entertainment. The baroque political cunning and desire for power were then replaced by a thirst for passion and sharing of sex secrets.

  • Helmut Newton | Erotic Fashion Photography

    Every once in a while a brilliant artistic flash emerges that redefines a genre or combines ideas into a new fusion of styles. This occurs across all sectors of culture and the arts and it’s no surprise...

    Every once in a while a brilliant artistic flash emerges that redefines a genre or combines ideas into a new fusion of styles. This occurs across all sectors of culture and the arts and it’s no surprise that the art of photography has benefitted from this phenomenon. Helmut Newton, a unique and highly influential figure in contemporary fine art photography produced one such brilliant flash.

    Newton was one of the world’s greatest fashion photographers. His erotically charged black-and-white photos achieved near-permanent status on the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other high fashion magazines. His photographic art – mixing fashion, nudity, and beauty – made him one of the most talked-about contemporary artists of the 1980s and 90s. His compositional talent took fashion photography to a new artistic level.

    The first fashion magazines, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue were initially illustrated by hand. It was not until 1913 when Condé Nast hired a photographer famed for his elegant photographic portraits, to shoot for Vogue, that photographs began to be used in fashion editorials. In the 1920s and 1930s, with the help of photography, rising couturiers, such as Chanel, Balenciaga, and Lanvin, became known for their distinctive styles. Paris was the center of the fashion world and the French city attracted some of the most famous fashion photographers of the time, mostly coming from Germany. Photographers such as Horst P. Horst and George Hoyningen-Huene, both working at Vogue, took an important step in re-imaging fashion photography. Paris remained the center of both fashion and fashion photography until the end of the 1930′s but the world was starting to change.

    Corset photographed by Horst P. Horst in 1939
    Horst P. Horst | Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher (1939)

    Richard Avedon, an American who began his career in 1944 as an advertising photographer developed an interest in fashion photography, and showed a great aptitude for this genre. Avedon was retained by Harper’s Bazaar and was sent to Paris in 1946 to cover the latest collections from the French fashion houses. The images Avedon captured for Harper’s Bazaar represented a new direction for fashion photography, young and full of energy.

    Avedon’s style was all about movement. He replaced the static, lifeless poses of the work that preceded him, with photographs full of vitality. He moved out of the studio and its confining control, preferring to work outdoors, or on location. Capturing lively street scenes and bustling parties, his models were photographed at the moment, showcasing their natural femininity; their flowing clothes seemed to be an elegant extension of their own bodies.

    Following on the heels of Avedon, Helmut Newton presented a newly aggressive and erotic image of women, who were radiant, elegant, powerful, and sensual. Avedon and the newly emerging Newton offered a striking counterpoint to contemporary fashion photography that had often portrayed women as weak and controlled.

    Naked and dressed photograph by Helmut Newton in 1981
    Helmut Newton | Naked and Dressed, Paris (1981)

    A master of eroticism’s dark potential, Helmut Newton redefined fashion photography – and even influenced modern sexuality, producing vividly erotic photographic art for Playboy and other leading-edge publications of the time. Newton’s influence has grown to be monumental in scope and impact. He was provocative, in his portrayals of stylized erotic scenes. His female subjects were photographed in suggestive poses, seemingly unaware of the camera. His models were typically tall and strong with perfect physiques – prototypical of later ‘super-models’ of the 1980s. The scenarios he arranged were shocking at the time, but their impact has lessened with the growth of erotic photography worldwide.

    Crocodile erotic photograph by Helmut Newton in 1980
    Helmut Newton | Crocodile (1980)

    A key feature of Newton’s photography is its ambiguity – viewers are never quite sure how to react to the scenes presented. This edgy ambivalence, allied to his style and panache, is what separates his pictures from those of his many imitators. This, and his technical brilliance – the way that he composes, frames and illuminates his photos are in a class of its own.

    The world of Helmut Newton is extremely complex and diverse.

    Born Helmut Neustaedter, to a Jewish family in Berlin, Germany, his fascination with photography began at the age of 12. At 16 he was apprenticed to a Berlin-based photographer, who was renowned for her elegant fashion, theatrical and nude photographs, greatly influencing his future career. In the late 1930s, Newton fled Nazi Germany, eventually settling in Australia. In 1946 he became an Australian citizen and set himself up in Melbourne as a professional photographer specializing in fashion and theatre photography.

    In 1953 Newton achieved his first big break when he was commissioned to produce a series of fashion shots in a special Australian supplement for Vogue magazine, which appeared in early 1956. Following the success of this, he was given a 12-month contract with British Vogue and moved to London, later settling in Paris where he worked on fashion shoots for a variety of prestigious magazines including French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Later in his career, he shot covers for Playboy, Nova, Oui, Marie-Claire, and Elle, as well as the American, Italian, and German editions of Vogue.

    Model in horse saddle photograph by Helmut Newton in Paris in 1976
    Helmut Newton | Saddle, Paris (1976)

    In the late 1960s, early 70s, he began to create a new style of erotic pictorialism – a type of fashion photography involving cool statuesque, and sexually experienced women, complete with overtones of voyeurism, sadomasochism, fetishism, and lesbianism – the absolute antithesis of the feminist art being produced in America at the time. Newton’s provocative interpretation of elegant and decadent lifestyles, with its powerful, confrontational female nudes, was light years away from the conventional fashion photography practiced by his contemporaries. The publishing industry loved it.

    Raquel Welch photographed by Helmut Newton in 1981
    Helmut Newton | Raquel Welch (1981)

    The world of Helmut Newton is extremely complex and diverse. Considered shocking and provocative back in the 60s, by the climax of his career he enjoyed the reputation of a photographer who was able to imagine and visualize his subjects as women who take the lead rather than follow it; women who enjoy the resplendence and vitality of their bodies; women who are both responsible and willing.

    Elsa Peretti in a 'Bunny' costume by Halston, New York photographed by Helmut Newton in 1975
    Helmut Newton | Elsa Peretti in a ‘Bunny’ Costume by Halston, New York (1975 )

    The Czech born art historian, and curator of contemporary art and photography Zdenek Felix, has said, “From fashion shots to portraits, from nude studies to the world of ballet, from the erotic to the subject of death – Newton’s work encompassed an almost baroque abundance of themes.” Newton’s unique contribution was to give fashion photography a noir edge, making it one of the coolest genres of contemporary art in the public domain.

    Helmut Newton’s genius lies in his work on the female body, his strong, confident Amazons striding towards the camera are an unforgettable moment in fashion history.

    Newton died at the age of 83 from injuries received in a car crash near his home in Southern California.

  • Burlesque Art Prints

    Capturing Sexuality With Burlesque Photography

    Burlesque photography is art intended to run against the grain of normal society. By design, this style is not for everyone, as it is often seen as shocking or offensive in the mainstream. But in the...

    Burlesque photography is art intended to run against the grain of normal society. By design, this style is not for everyone, as it is often seen as shocking or offensive in the mainstream. But in the world of erotic photography, burlesque is one of the most popular styles.

    Burlesque Art Prints
    Andrews Lucas | Catherine

    Burlesque itself dates back as far as the 17th century in Spain. However, modern burlesque photography prints usually portray themes and styles from Victorian London or New York in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    Burlesque is best recognized for sexual themes and risqué comedy in a variety show format.

    The Rise, Fall, & Revival of Burlesque

    The early roots of burlesque focused on parody and satire. It began as a literary movement, mocking or ridiculing themes in literary works. Even the Bard himself, William Shakespeare is sometimes considered as a burlesque playwright.

    It was often sexual in nature and critiqued or parodied serious subjects or societal norms. Early burlesque relied on an intellectual and highly literate audience.

    Victorian Burlesque

    In the 1830s Victorian burlesque grew in popularity. The style had evolved into theatrical parody. Famous operas, plays, and ballets were recreated, with an absurdists view on their conventions, subjects.

    Travesty roles, where women in revealing tights play male characters, became a central theme. Music, sexuality, and garish dress became central themes in burlesque shows.

    Burlesque Photography
    Patrick Kaas | Red Room

    By the end of the 19th-century burlesque had fallen out of favour in London, replaced with Edwardian musical comedy. But the tradition lived on in America.

    New York Burlesque

    Burlesque was introduced to New York during the heyday of Victorian burlesque. The American style became more of a variety show. Burlesques would include, songs, sketch comedy, acrobats, magicians, and political or theatrical parody. The grand finale was a fight or exotic dance.

    At the same time Victorian burlesque was fading in London, American burlesque began to flourish in New York. The shows became more sexual in nature, slowly developing into striptease shows.

    The popularity began to fade during prohibition and later was stamped out as nudity became more commonplace in theatre and cinema.


    The 1990s resurrected burlesque performances. Although modern burlesque keeps up with some of the older themes and styles, the tone and purpose have changed. Where once the stripteases and dress were intended for sexual gratification of the audience, it is now used in the artist’s self-discovery and expression.

    Burlesque Photography
    Corrie Ancone | Luscious Scent 2010

    Burlesque Photography

    The focus on erotica and sexual gratification remain in the works of burlesque photographers. They produce tantalizing burlesque prints that capture sexual and social taboos over the past 200 years.

    The costume and dress of the subjects often date back to the Victorian era performances and harken to other elements of burlesque shows. Old-time aerialist, magician, and circus performer garb and activities are common.

    Burlesque Photo Print
    Stephen Perry | Masking The Mystery

    Some elements of neo-burlesque can play into this style of erotic photography. Boylesque, for instance, is relatively new. Boylesque is a role reversal where males are featured burlesques’ typical female roles. The men may be dressed in drag, or performing stripteases and erotic dances.

    Art Provocateur Gallery has prints, originals, and limited works from some of today’s best burlesque photographers. Browse our burlesque gallery today.

  • Jean-Léon Gérôme | Phryne before the Areopagus (1861) Kunsthalle Hamburg

    Pleasures of the Male Gaze

    Pleasures of the male gaze; and in other words: men like looking at women. No surprise there. For males, the eye is the primary sense organ when it comes to appraising feminine beauty. Looking at members...

    Pleasures of the male gaze; and in other words: men like looking at women. No surprise there. For males, the eye is the primary sense organ when it comes to appraising feminine beauty. Looking at members of the opposite sex is, for the male, an instinctual act connected to the sexual pleasure that comes with the necessity to ensure the survival of the species through reproduction. In the pursuit of pleasure, the male’s scrutiny of the female is the preliminary step in an erotic dance. The next step, often criticized by the woman being “checked out” by a male, is the imaginative undressing of the female, revealing the pleasure to be had in her naked form.

    Alessandro Allori painting of Susanna and The Elders (male gaze)
    Alessandro Allori | Susanna and The Elders, Florentine (1535 – 1607) Musée Magnin, Lyon

    Looking steadily, intently and with fixed attention at a fellow human being of the opposite sex with the effect of raising the emotion of desire is a motif that has been very popular in western art. The strength of emotion is a factor of cultural norms. Thus peeping or taking a longer and broader, forbidden look at a clothed or unclothed female, is for males a highly stimulating activity. In art, the eroticism of the illicit act of gazing becomes a visual stand-in for the act itself. A male looking at a picture like Alessandro Allori’s Susanna and the Elders puts himself in the position of the elders and in doing so achieves a measure of pleasure. The biblical event represented in this work is the failed blackmailing of Susanna by two lustful elders who have been driven wild to have sex with her. Their lust was raised by secretly observing her bathing in her garden.

    Giuseppe Cesari painting of Male Gaze: Diana and Actaeon (1602/03)
    Giuseppe Cesari | Diana and Actaeon (1602/03) Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts

    The arousal of male sexual desire through surreptitiously or accidentally observing, a naked female body was a subject of an understandably popular ancient Greek myth. The story tells how chaste goddess Diana bathing in a spring with her attendant nymphs was unintentionally seen by the mortal, hunter Actaeon. The sight of her naked form raised Actaeon’s lust. Diana, anticipating that he would be unable to control himself, dampened his ardour by splashing him with water. The magical treatment was very effective at “cooling his jets” because he was turned into a deer and torn to shreds by his own hunting dogs. The cautionary moral of this tale: don’t look at a naked female, especially if she is a goddess; does nothing to deter males from illicitly or accidentally gazing at females. It merely raises the stakes, adds danger to the act which ups the power of peeping to elevate lust.

    Jean-Léon Gérôme painting of the male gaze of Phryne before the Areopagus (1861)
    Jean-Léon Gérôme | Phryne before the Areopagus (1861) Kunsthalle Hamburg

    A specific kind of painting in western art that had the purpose of arousing male lust became popular from the 15th century on. Clothed in the garb of legitimacy by representing select, mythological and historical events, these pictures work because they simulate situations that are not dissimilar to those in the male imagination, where the thought of gazing at a female body may be almost as stimulating as the act itself. This suggests that erotic male pleasure and consequently the male obsession with the female body is entirely a mental construct. A work by the French 19th century painter Gérôme, is an example of pictorial stimulation of the male mind.

    The artist portrayed the trial for the impiety of the Athenian, courtesan Phryne. It is intended to act as a pleasurable reflection on the effects of intent looking at a naked female body. In summing up the case for the defense, Phryne’s lawyer pulled off her robe exposing her to the eyes of the judges. They were, so the story goes, driven to pity by the sight. They did acquit her but it was probably not on account of pity but out of fear of condemning a rare beauty to death and thus depriving themselves of the potential of a lustful encounter with the courtesan.

    Don’t look at a naked female, especially if she is a goddess.

    The excuse or narrative camouflage employed to legitimize pictures of a male gaze at nude females has varied over time. In the early 20th century ancient myths were replaced by a number of pictorial fictions that reflected contemporary life. One of the most popular of these involved the kind of legitimate, concentrated looking at a nude model in the socially acceptable environment of an art class.

    Erotic in the male gaze still depends on notions of chance.

    With the evolution in sexual mores in the last half of the 20th century, the requirement for a narrative context in the portrayal of a nude female in art disappeared. The ubiquity of representations in moving images, photography, painting and sculpture of the unclothed female body, however, has not meant the end of storytelling in erotic image-making. In large measure, the erotic in the male gaze still depends on notions of chance and illicit or secret peeping. Hence the male gaze and delight in the interplay between concealing and revealing in fashion photography. The erotic intensity of this teasing of the male gaze is increased by role-playing. This is thoroughly understood by women themselves who have since antiquity assumed roles as “vamps”, in effect, asserting their sexual power by working with the predilections of the male gaze.

    Art Provocateur is the premier online gallery of erotic art prints. Browse Art Provocateur Gallery for limited edition and one-of-a-kind artwork. We have the largest selection of erotic and nude art from both established artists and rising stars.

  • pin-up-art-illustration

    Contrasting Modern & Vintage Pin-Up Art

    The iconic American pin-up girl of the 40s and 50s. Photographs, drawings, and paintings of models intended to be pinned up on the wall. They’re famous for decorating the noses of fighters planes and...

    The iconic American pin-up girl of the 40s and 50s. Photographs, drawings, and paintings of models intended to be pinned up on the wall. They’re famous for decorating the noses of fighters planes and bombers of World War Two. But their origins lay long before that, and they’re still popular today.

    Although pin-up art didn’t get its name until the 1940s, its origins trace back to the later years of Victorian burlesque photography and it’s boom in New York during the late 1800s. Burlesque performers used provocative photographs to promote themselves and their shows.

    Early pin-up paintings and photographs featured nude or erotic artwork. It went from being a promotional tool to a popular commodity among soldiers in WWI. At the same time, as it was becoming popular in overseas conflicts, film was taking off at home.

    Actresses were competing for roles and they followed the example of burlesque performers. They took up proto-pin-up art to increase their public visibility and demand. This introduced vintage pin-up art to the mainstream.

    Marilyn Monroe Nude
    Marilyn Monroe Nude | Playboy

    Over a couple of decades, pin-up art grew into its own art style with common looks and purpose.

    The Vintage Pin-Up Art Look

    The vintage “pin-up look” is relatively simple. Clothing, hair, and makeup are all worn to emphasize and accentuate natural features. While the looks focus on natural beauty, the posing is based on sexuality. The women (and occasionally male) pin-up model poses in provocative poses, usually with a simple backdrop.

    Pin-up clothing and apparel compliments the natural curves of the body, usually accentuating the cleavage. The type of clothing is often sexually suggestive. For example, nightwear and lingerie are common themes because we associate them with the bedroom and love-making.

    Models may pose in various states of undress as well. Artistic prints depict them about to remove clothing, or completely nude.

    Pin-up art

    Makeup was used to emphasize natural features. In part, historians credit this to the limited makeup available due to war rationing. Foundations and powders were a key element, sometimes emphasized with blush on the cheeks. Eyebrows and eyes were contoured to make them stand out. And most iconically, the lips were made to look plump, vibrant and full.

    Purpose of Vintage Pin-Up Art

    The purpose of the pin-up art had some variation as the art form evolved. It started off as a promotional tool for burlesque performers and burgeoning entertainers. Eventually, pin-up artwork transitioned into its own commodity.

    During WWII soldiers once again played a key role in popularizing vintage pin-up art. Pin-up images were used to boost morale on the front lines. The US government even took part, asking women to send lipstick kisses on letters to soldiers. These are kisses where the woman applies lipstick and kisses the letter so it leaves a full, plump lip shape – reminiscent of pin-up model makeup.

    Betty Page
    Betty Page | Pin Up Girl 1950

    Classic pin-up art went from being used as an advertisement for the model, to being sold as its own artwork on their own and in magazines, or even in advertisements to sell other products. BDSM art magazines gave rise to celebrated pin-up girls like Bettie Page. Often hailed as the “Queen of the Pin-Ups”, Bettie Page ushered in a new era of female sexuality.

    Heralded as the catalyst to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Bettie helped bring about the new purpose found in modern pin-up art.

    Modern Pin-Up Art & Culture

    Visually, the modern pin-up scene has a lot of carry-over from the 40s and 50s. The classic look actually had a bit of a resurgence with the focus on natural bodies and curves over the past decade. The art is still sexual but has more focus on female empowerment and betterment.

    We Can Do It! Poster
    We Can Do It!

    In part, this is exemplified by the importance of inner beauty. Pin-up contests focus on inner beauty, not just cosmetic appeal. Judging considers:

    • – Originality
    • – Presentation
    • – Stage Presence
    • – Crowd Appeal


    Often it is paired with feminism, having helped push the sexual revolution. In feminist art pin-up girls weaponize lipstick, challenging social norms and promoting positive body image. The famous “We Can Do It” stamp is a popular feminist icon today.

    It represents women coming into the workforce during the Second World War, an important stepping stone towards gender-equality.

    Dita Von Teese | Photographer: Craig Morey

    While early actresses helped to spread the genre, many of today’s entertainers are pushing modern pin-up art forward. Many pop culture icons, like Dita Von Teese and Lana Del Ray, style their looks after the vintage pin-up look. Katy Perry, for example, makes use of pin-up apparel and makeup styles in her performances and videos.

    Modern & Vintage Pin-Up Art For Sale

    Explore the Art Provocateur Gallery to shop the most enticing modern and vintage pin-up art for sale. Discover art prints ranging from erotic and nude photography to pin-up paintings. Start building your collection today and learn the tantalizing thrills of decorating with nude art.

  • Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (1486)

    Erotic Art Controversy and Its History

    Erotic art controversy has been around for centuries. From the classic reclining nude or the 1920s pin-up girl to today’s provocative prints or sexy “selfies,” erotica will always be a loaded topic...

    Erotic art controversy has been around for centuries. From the classic reclining nude or the 1920s pin-up girl to today’s provocative prints or sexy “selfies,” erotica will always be a loaded topic of conversation. Are we too embarrassed to look at the human form, one of nature’s purest entities? Perhaps it is the blunt rawness of nudity that makes us uncomfortable. When we look at art, we are conditioned to judge certain works positively and other more explicit works with discomfort or disgust. For example, we may look at a nude poster of Marilyn Monroe as beautiful and iconic, while a photograph of an exotic dancer elicits a more lowbrow connotation. Why? It is almost as if society’s mainstream perceptions have pervaded the average person’s idea of erotic art or imagery who have come to see it as crude or even tasteless.

    Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (1486)
    Sandro Botticelli | The Birth of Venus (1486)

    Throughout history, similar reactions arose in response to certain works of fine art depicting the nude body. For the most part, cultures have a code for depicting nudity, often in the service of allegorical narrative. Hellenistic art frequently depicted nudity and on occasion used devices such as draping or a modest hand over the nether regions. Publicly visible Medieval European depictions of the nude body were mostly allegorical, and served as cautionary Christian narratives, whereas Italian renaissance painting and sculpture looked to the traditions of the Greco-Roman era for models, such as the allegorical Botticelli painting, The Birth of Venus (1486).

    The power of allegory is its supposed sublimation. This is why we often look at the dreamy goddesses of Titian or Botticelli with exalted reverence, but will not welcome erotic art photography or provocative paintings with the same appraisal. It seems that if an image is too contemporary or blatantly sexual, it is too raw and explicit for mainstream tastes—and that is where the line is drawn.

    erotic art painting of Édouard Manet, Olympia (1865)
    Édouard Manet | Olympia (1865)

    Explicit can mean more than simply the exposure of one’s most intimate regions, in fact it can be the lack of metaphor, of distance of sublimation. The date 1865 has long been considered a pivotal moment in the history of modern art, particularly the representation of nudity. It is the year that the French painter Édouard Manet exhibited his painting Olympia – painted in the tradition of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) as well as Ingres Odalisque with a Slave (1842). However, without the traditional device of literary or mythological allegory and with various contemporary symbols this was a shocking image. While the model for the picture was Victorine Meurent who also modeled for other paintings, it resembled pornographic photographs of the period, which surely would be recognized, but it was most of all her cool stare, rather than a welcoming smile, that made Olympia equal parts shocking and mesmerizing. Equally, contemporary audiences were astounded by the flatness of the modeling and color. It was obvious to the contemporary audience that this woman was a kept mistress or courtesan. Some critics point to the name Olympia as a common name for courtesans, and others connect Manet’s painting to the notorious renaissance courtesan Donna Olimpia Maldachini, or Marguerite Bellanger, a mistress of Emperor Napoleon III. Whoever this alluring woman may be, she has a confident self-possession and carelessness that disturbed so many of the viewers, some who said they felt trapped by her gaze.

    These boundaries were pushed further in the painting of a languishing nude woman by the French painter Gustave Courbet – the infamous L’Origine du monde (1866) in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. This picture shows the artist’s mistress and model Joanna Hiffernan who is said to also have been the lover of the American painter James Whistler. L’Origine du monde was commissioned by the Turkish-Egyptian diplomat Khalil-Bey, who had become well known for his Paris erotic art collection. While the picture displays feminine genitalia with an unrelenting magnification, many critics feel it bears traces of the sumptuous painting of the Venetian school such as Titian and Veronese.

    Erotic art painting of Amedeo Modigliani, Reclining Nude Painting (1917)
    Amedeo Modigliani | Reclining Nude Painting (1917)

    Amedeo Modigliani also tested these barriers when he painted highly stylized reclining females who seemed to embrace their own sensuality, and made no move to cover their bodies. Modigliani made over twenty-six works of this type; the one shown here was made for his patron Léopold Zborowski. The reality is that there is a candid eroticism, a certain charge that caused some erotic art controversy when the paintings were exhibited in the window of the art dealer’s Berthe Weill’s gallery, their reflection of the liberal culture of Montparnasse so shocking that Weill was ordered to take the erotic artworks down.

    A sumptuous explicit body is at the center of erotic art controversy.

    The difference between an allegorical nude and a sumptuous explicit body is at the center of erotic art controversy. An allegorical nude is associated with beauty and high culture, whereas the exposed body is associated with lowbrow eroticism. This is part of the distinction that creates the boundaries between erotic art and that which is scandalous. However, all of this raises the question of why we see more explicit eroticism as shameful or distasteful and who decides?

    Perhaps we can liberate ourselves and be more honest about our taste. The reality is that arousal and sexuality are natural parts of being human. For this reason, if we shy away art that shows explicit sexuality and nudity, we are also denying the sexuality that is innate to our own being. In truth, erotic imagery is still and will remain an integral part of our humanity.

    Art Provocateur is the premier online gallery of erotic art controversy prints.  Browse our galleries of limited edition and one-of-a-kind artwork. We have the largest selection of erotic and nude art from both established artists and rising stars.

  • Jeff Koons Antiquity

    The Philosophy of Erotica & Erotic Art

    Erotic art is often viewed as taboo. But the philosophy of erotica plays an important role in portraying, capturing, and accepting humanity. [caption id="attachment_1085" align="alignleft"...

    Erotic art is often viewed as taboo. But the philosophy of erotica plays an important role in portraying, capturing, and accepting humanity.

    Jeff Koons Antiquity
    Jeff Koons | Antiquity 2 | United States

    While the 20th and 21st century saw an attempted suppression of the philosophy of erotica, it continues to be an important and celebrated artistic style. In all the biggest art galleries around the world, nude art is prominently on display. Of course, it is not without erotic art controversy and its history.

    Embracing Human Nature Through Erotic Art

    Descartes and Hobbes are proponents in an attempt to suppress erotic art. They believed that erotic desire was subversive and detrimental to the modern age. That our natural longings and lust would distract from advancement.

    Art, however, is subversive. It provokes an emotional response triggered by our basest desires. Erotic art, in this way, is perhaps the most honest artistic style – appealing to our natural impulses and selves.

    An attempt to suppress these desires is denying who we truly are. Whereas embracing erotic art allows for us to reach a true expression and acceptance of self.

    erotic art painting

    Plato took it a step further. The word “erotica” comes from the Greek word “eros,” meaning love or passion. For Plato, the pursuit of eros was a means of ascension.

    He proposed that humanity’s true desire is for immortality. We seek immortality through procreation, a means of continuing the self. In this way, eros transcends human existence. As such, the pursuit of erotic art is not only in harmony with our base nature, but a means of achieving our true desires.

    The Fallacy of Immaculate Perception in Art

    Immaculate perception is the idea of aesthetics that are completely void of desire. Philosophers like Kant and Schopenhauer deny erotica from art because they elicit an emotional response by invoking lust. This is a fallacy because all art derives a response through provoking desires.

    philosophy or erotic art paintings

    Nietzsche defends the erotic. Art for the sake of aesthetics is a pursuit of beauty. The ultimate result of all beauty is procreation, “from the most sensual to the most spiritual.” Art devoid of desire is art devoid of aesthetics.

    Philosopher Richard Shusterman emphasizes that sexual experiences and expressions are themselves aesthetic. As such, erotic art is an undeniable art form. He also found that the philosophy of erotica as important in the study of somaesthetics.


    Somaesthetics is the study of bodily perception, performance, and presentation. It emphasizes the concept of the body beyond the physical. The incorporation of erotica creates mindfulness of the body’s desires.

    Beyond Physical

    Erotic art goes beyond physical. It communicates emotions and feelings that invite a response, with or without including nudity. Sensual and sexual pleasures are evoked through erotica and provocative art.

    philosophy of erotica

    The collection and display of erotica can evoke passion, setting a tone amongst lovers. Or it can provoke an emotive and reflective response. Philosophy of erotica can be empowering, sexual, or romantic, but in all forms, it is a source of honest aesthetic pleasure.

  • Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Venus and Adonis (1485/90)

    Erotica & Provocative Art

    Erotica is a term applied not only to literature and art, but media, objects, costume and performances that arouse, titillate and excite. Examples of erotica span from what some might consider purely...

    Erotica is a term applied not only to literature and art, but media, objects, costume and performances that arouse, titillate and excite.

    Examples of erotica span from what some might consider purely pornography, to the literary delights of the ancient Roman poet Ovid and Shakespeare such as Venus and Adonis. The assessment of what constitutes erotica varies and fluctuates culture-to-culture, era-to-era.

    erotica painting by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Venus and Adonis (1485/90)
    Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) | Venus and Adonis (1485/90)

    In post enlightenment European culture, erotic art that provokes sexual feelings is often belied as too distracting because it does not sublimate ideas, but rather evokes feeling that some see as self-interested or out of control. One might wonder if this is more a problem of the critic than the audience of erotica in general.

    People continue to collect and enjoy erotica despite censure.

    Art is not always about intellectual deconstruction, for centuries it has been used to illicit feeling, of religious devotion, of horror and moral outrage, of national pride, of cautionary moral tales and for so long as intimate devices for sexual stimulation. Ironically, people continued to collect and enjoy erotic art despite censure, and artists continued to create and construct such works.

    Provocative Art: It is amusing to note that dictionaries of the English language often include the definition of provocative as a drive to annoy or irritate.

    Consider that those artists who dare to make provocative art and refuse to adhere to aesthetic standards regarding “obscenity” may do so not only out of pure obstinacy but also rather of very personal aesthetic vision and a certain amount of courage.

    While some might see provocation as an ugliness, it can also be sublimely beautiful. Suppose it depends on one’s definition of sex and sexuality.

    erotica sculpture by Auguste Rodin, The Kiss (1882)
    Auguste Rodin | The Kiss (1882)

    Think about the famously popular late nineteenth-early twentieth century French sculptor August Rodin, who has long been considered the first modern sculptor. This seminal artist defied common models of finished polished depictions of nudity. Using the device of stone carving emerging from raw stone, Rodin created explicit and provocative visions of sexuality that defied not only cultural expectations, but created an illusory world of the artist’s studio. Ultimately, we can connect this to the “modern” vision of artistic primacy.

    Rodin’s sculpture provokes, and is the paradigm for sensuality, provocation, and the power of representational art to inflame, to provoke imagination. And yet, within this aesthetic we see, not only the physical act of two lovers intertwined, straining soft marble curves contrasting with the unfinished edges of stone, arching muscular torso, we see another kind of power, of physicality, that of the artist, masterly carving from stone, provoking admiration, a sense of the power of virility and art.

    erotica sculpture of its time by Henry Moore, Draped Reclining Woman (1957-8)
    Henry Moore | Draped Reclining Woman (1957-8)

    The influence of Rodin is seen in much of modernist sculpture including Aristide Maillol, Henry Moore, and Henri Matisse. Rodin’s way of working is also seen in the sensual depiction of the erotic human body in photography and drawing particularly gesture, line, texture, and form.