Venus in Spain  

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"This is why Alejandro Melero (2010) mentions La trastienda as an example of ... board had approved a scene with full frontal nudity in a Spanish feature film, and ... While Jorge Grau was comfortable with the fact that his film had become 'a ..." --Spanish Erotic Cinema (2017) by Santiago Fouz-Hernandez

Image:Maja desnuda by Goya.jpg
Maja desnuda (executed some time between 1797 and 1800) by Francisco de Goya

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This page Venus in Spain is dedicated to erotic art and literature from Spain.


The 16th century

The 17th century

Rokeby Venus, baroquerotica, 17th century

In 17th-century Spanish art, even in the depiction of sibyls, nymphs, and goddesses, the female form was always chastely covered. No painting from the 1630s or 1640s, whether in the genre, portrait, or history format, shows a Spanish female with her breasts exposed; even uncovered arms were only rarely shown.

The portrayal of nudes was officially discouraged in 17th-century Spain. Works could be seized or repainting demanded by the Inquisition, and artists who painted licentious or immoral works were often excommunicated, fined, or banished from Spain for a year. However, within intellectual and aristocratic circles, the aims of art were believed to supersede questions of morality, and there were many, generally mythological, nudes in private collections. Velázquez's patron, the art-loving King Philip IV, held a number of nudes by Titian and Rubens, and Velázquez, as the king's painter, need not have feared painting such a picture. Leading collectors, including the King, tended to keep nudes, many mythological, in relatively private rooms; in Phillip's case "the room where His Majesty retires after eating", which contained the Titian poesies he had inherited from Phillip II, and the Rubens he had commissioned himself. The Venus would be in such a room while in the collections of both Gaspar Méndez de Haro, 7th Marquis of Carpio and Manuel de Godoy. The court of Philip IV greatly "appreciated painting in general, and the nude in particular, but ... at the same time, exerted unparalleled pressure on artists to avoid the depiction of the naked human body." (Portús)

The contemporary Spanish attitude toward paintings of nudes was unique in Europe. Although such works were appreciated by some connoisseurs and intellectuals within Spain, they were generally treated with suspicion. Low necklines were commonly worn by women during the period, but according to the art historian Zahira Veliz, "the codes of pictorial decorum would not easily permit a known lady to be painted in this way". For Spaniards of the 17th century, the issue of the nude in art was tied up with concepts of morality, power, and aesthetics. This attitude is reflected in the literature of the Spanish Golden Age, in works such as Lope de Vega's play La quinta de Florencia, which features an aristocrat who commits rape after viewing a scantily clad figure in a mythological painting by Michelangelo.

In 1632, an anonymous pamphlet—attributed to the Portuguese Francisco de Braganza—was published with the title "A copy of the opinions and censorship by the most revered fathers, masters and senior professors of the distinguished universities of Salamanca and Alcalá, and other scholars on the abuse of lascivious and indecent figures and paintings, which are mortal sin to be painted, carved and displayed where they can be seen". The court was able to exert counter-pressure, and a piece by the famous poet and preacher Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino, which proposed the destruction of all paintings of the nude, and was written to be included in the pamphlet, was never published. Paravicino was a connoisseur of painting, and therefore believed in its power: "the finest paintings are the greatest threat: burn the best of them". As his title shows, Braganza merely argued that such works should be kept from the view of a wider public, as was in fact mostly the practice in Spain.

In contrast, French art of the period often depicted women with low necklines and slender corsets; however, the apparent destruction by the French royal family of the famous paintings of Leda and the Swan by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, as well as the mutilation of the Correggio composition, show that nudity could be controversial in France also. In northern Europe it was seen as acceptable to portray artfully draped nudes. Examples include Rubens's Minerva Victrix, of 1622–25, which shows Marie de' Medici with an uncovered breast, and Anthony van Dyck's 1620 painting, The Duke and Duchess of Buckingham as Venus and Adonis.

Rokeby Venus

The Rokeby Venus is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez. Nudes were extremely rare in seventeenth-century Spanish art, which was policed actively by members of the Spanish Inquisition.

In 1997, the art historian Peter Cherry suggested that Velázquez sought to overcome the contemporary requirement for modesty by portraying Venus from the back.

Another attitude to the issue was shown by John Morritt, who wrote to Sir Walter Scott of his "fine painting of Venus' backside", which he hung above his main fireplace, so that "the ladies may avert their downcast eyes without difficulty and connoisseurs steal a glance without drawing the said posterior into the company".


18th century

19th century



See also

Venus in Europe, Spanish film, Spanish literature, Spanish art, Spanish censorship, Venus

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