17th century erotica  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In the 17th century, three works of erotic fiction, the so-called whore dialogues L'École des filles (1655), Satyra Sotadica (1659) and Vénus dans le Cloître (1683) mark the shift in European erotica from Italy to France. In painting and sculpture, mythological painting is continued by Poussin in his early period with works such as Venus (or a Nymph) Spied On by Satyrs. A trend towards erotic realism is present in the work of Rembrandt, most notably in prints such as Ledikant.


Visual arts

Individual works

Rokeby Venus

The Rokeby Venus (also known as The Toilet of Venus, Venus at her Mirror, Venus and Cupid, or La Venus del espejo) is a painting by Diego Velázquez (15991660), the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, in the National Gallery, London. Completed between 1647 and 1651, and probably painted during the artist's visit to Italy, the work depicts the goddess Venus in a sensually erotic pose, lying on a bed and looking into a mirror held by the god of love and sex, her son Cupid.

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. Despite this, nudes by foreign artists were keenly collected by the court circle, and this painting was hung in the houses of Spanish courtiers until 1813, when it was brought to England to hang in Rokeby Park, Yorkshire. In 1906, the painting was purchased by National Art Collections Fund for the National Gallery, London. Although it was attacked and badly damaged in 1914 by the suffragette Mary Richardson, it soon was fully restored and returned to display.

Rokeby Venus

Venus (or a Nymph) Spied On by Satyrs by Poussin

Venus (or a Nymph) Spied On by Satyrs

"Venus (or a Nymph) Spied On by Satyrs" (c. 1627) is a painting by Poussin. Depicted is a satyr lifting a cloth off a reclining nude, exposing her breasts but partly covering her genitalia in a recumbent Venus pudica pose. The painting is located at the Kunsthaus Zürich.

Bernini's Proserpina, and the ecstasies of Teresa and Ludovica


Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 - 1680) was an Italian sculptor, architect.

Working in 17th century Rome, best-known for his marble sculptures the Ecstasy of St Theresa[5], The Rape of Proserpina[6] and the Beata Ludovica Albertoni[7].

Guido Cagnacci's pinups

Guido Cagnacci

The Death of Cleopatra[8] (1658) by Guido Cagnacci is his best-known work, in fact he did at least two versions of it.

In the history of baroquerotica, the name Cagnacci deserves a special place. He made paintings of the erotic vocabulary of the Renaissance everyman. Examples include the humanistic Allegory of Human Life[9], his “Drunken Noah[10], a Susanna and the Elders[11] Vanitas[12], a Roman Charity[13], Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity[14]

A special mention must go to Magdalena Fainted[15] (Italian: Maddalena svenuta).

The Rubenesque flesh


Peter Paul Rubens (15771640) was a Flemish painter known for depicting eroticism in countless paintings, from Hélène Fourment in a Fur Wrap to Venus at the Mirror, all depicting BBWs with small breasts.

Rembrandt's mistresses and etchings

Rembrandt's prints, Rembrandt's women

Rembrandt (1606 – 1669) was a Dutch painter, erotically noted for his explicit engravings and the portraiture of his mistresses, which show an erotic realism hitherto unknown.

Theme: Roman Charity

Roman Charity

In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, many famous European artists depicted the scene. Hundreds or possibly thousands of paintings were created, which tell the story. Most outstandingly, Peter Paul Rubens had several versions. Baroque artist Caravaggio also featured the deed (among others) in his work from 1606, The Seven Works of Mercy. Neoclassical depictions tended to be more subdued.

Theme: Death of Cleopatra

Death of Cleopatra

France (literature)

French erotica, French literature of the 17th century, French literature, 17th century French art

Precursors to the libertine writers were Théophile de Viau (1590-1626) and Charles de Saint-Évremond (1610-1703), who were inspired by Epicurus and the publication of Petronius.

Le Parnasse satyrique

Le Parnasse satyrique

Le Parnasse satyrique is a collection of poetry by Théophile de Viau first published in 1622 which features Viau's controversial poem "Philis tout est f…tu".

Les Vies des Dames galantes

Les Vies des Dames galantes (1665-1666)

Although most of Brantôme's memoirs were written during the previous century, audiences could only now read the posthumously published mémoirthe "gallant ladies" of the European courts.

Contes et nouvelles en vers

Contes et nouvelles en vers (1665-66) is a French collection of bawdy short stories by Jean de la Fontaine. Fontaine used the plots of some of the bawdier episodes of Orlando Furioso and Boccaccio as well as other sources. It features stories such as Le Cocu, battu, et content.

Académie des dames ou le meursius francais

Académie des dames ou le meursius francais,whore dialogue

Académie des dames ou le meursius francais is an early work of erotic fiction written by Nicolas Chorier, first published in Latin in c.1659 as Aloisiae Sigaeae, Toletanae, Satyra sotadica de arcanis amoris et Veneris.

The book is written in the form of a series of dialogues with Tullia, a twenty-six year-old Italian woman, the wife of Callias, who is charged with the sexual initiation of her young cousin, Ottavia, to whom she declares, "You mother asked to reveal to you the most mysterious secrets of bridal bed and to teach you what you must be with your husband, which your husband will also be, touching these small things which so strongly inflame men's passion. This night, so that I can indoctrinate you in all of this liberated language, will sleep together in my bed, which I would like to be able to say will have been the softest of Venus's lace."

L'École des filles

L'École des filles

L’Escole des Filles ou la Philosophie des dames (a so-called whore dialogue) is an erotic work of fiction first described by Samuel Pepys in his famous diary. It was first published anonymously in Paris in 1655 by an. The presumed authors are Michel Millot and/or Jean L'Ange [or de Lange].

Originally published in 1655, this French text has also been translated as 'The School for Venus,' and despite its initial title (École des filles), should not be confused with The School for Girls (L'École des biches).

In 1668 Samuel Pepys picked up a copy of the book. Having read it and pleasured himself, he threw the "idle roguish book" on the fire. See Samuel Pepys's purchase of L'École des filles, his pleasure derived from and the subsequent burning of it

Letters of a Portuguese Nun

Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1669)

The Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Fr. Les Lettres portugaises), first published anonymously by Claude Barbin in Paris in 1669, are a work believed by most scholars to be epistolary fiction (comprising five love letters) written by Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues (1628–1685).

The passionate letters were a European publishing sensation (in part because of their presumed authenticity) and set a precedent for sentimentalism and for the literary genres of the sentimental novel and the epistolary novel into the 18th century. A 2006 book written by Myriam Cyr argues that the letters are in fact authentic.

Vénus dans le Cloître

Vénus dans le Cloître (1683)

The Nun in her Smock or Venus in the Cloister is the English translation of the French novel Vénus dans le Cloître (1683), ascribed to Abbé du Prat.

In 1724, Edmund Curll published the "pornographic" title that argued that it is the church, and not Christ, that forbids sexual exploration. In 1727 he was convicted under the common law offence of disturbing the peace for its publication. It appears to be the first conviction for obscenity in the United Kingdom, and set a legal precedent for other convictions.

The format of the book is an example of a whore dialogue. In a series of five dramatic conversations between two fictional nuns (sister Agnès and sister Angélique) are related. In these conversations, the elder more experienced woman instructs the younger about sex.

Italy (literature)

Italian erotica

La retorica delle puttane

La retorica delle puttane, anticlericalism

La retorica delle puttane (Englished as The Whore’s Rhetoric) is a text by Ferrante Pallavicino first published in Italian in 1642, which Edward Muir describes as a "scandalous anti-Jesuit work", which "demonstrates why Pallavicino was the only Italian author of his epoch capable of a coherent vision that integrated satire, skepticism, and naturalistic morality."

La Retorica is written in the form of a dialogue between an aged prostitute and her naive apprentice. The older woman is sick, poor, and miserable because, she explains, she "did not know to stop at rhetoric, wanting to go on to learn philosophy." Muir explains, "By 'rhetoric,' she means the arts of simulation and dissimulation, which would have brought her pleasure and riches, without danger, while philosophy, with its pretension to discovering truth, has brought her the ruin of emotional authenticity." The fifteen lessons of the old whore were based on Cipriano Suarez's De arte rhetorica, the manual used in Jesuit schools. Muir pointedly notes, "By systematically pursuing the parallels between rhetorical persuasion and erotic seduction, Pallavicino demonstrates how the high art of rhetoric has the same instrumental character as the lowly deceptions of the prostitute."

Alcibiades the Schoolboy by Antonio Rocco

Alcibiades the Schoolboy

Alcibiades the Schoolboy (L'Alcibiade, fanciullo a scola), an Italian dialogue published anonymously in 1652, is a lively defense of pederasty loosely styled after Platonic dialogue. Set in ancient Athens, the teacher is modelled on Socrates, who so desperately wants to consummate the relationship he has with Alcibiades, one of his students that he uses all tactics of rhetoric and sophistry at his disposal. He argues that nature gave us sexual organs for our own pleasure, and that it would insult him to use them otherwise, citing examples from Greek mythology and culture, as well as refuting counterarguments based on the Sodom and Gomorrah story.

La Puttana Errante

La Puttana Errante

La Puttana Errante (c.1650-1660) is an anonymously published text in dialog form ascribed to Lorenzo Veniero. Like many "whore dialogues" in the seventeenth century, it was inspired by Pietro Aretino's earlier sonnets. It was translated into many European languages and its title was appropriated for a short-lived British periodical called The Wandering Whore.


John Suckling's poem "It is not four years ago"



Somatopia is a term coined by Darby Lewes to denote texts composed of, or designed for the human body. Examples include Erotopolis: The Present State of Bettyland (1684) and Merryland (1740). Agriculture and topography have been popular sources of sexual symbolism from Ancient times.

Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery

Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery

Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery (first published in Antwerp in 1684) is a seventeenth century restoration play. The work is thought to be (though not definitively) that of John Wilmot. Determining the date of composition and attribution are complicated owing mostly to misattribution of evidence for and against Rochester's authorship in Restoration and later texts.

Whether by Rochester or not, Sodom merits attention not just as an early piece of pornography but also as a disguised satire on the court of Charles II and especially of his apparent willingness to tolerate Catholicism in England at a time when that religion was officially proscribed. Written presumably at the time of Charles's 1672 Declaration of Indulgence (which promulgated official toleration of Catholics and others), Sodom delineates in its racy plot a king much like Charles whose insistence on promoting his sexual preference for sodomy can be read as an analogue to the debate in England at the time about the king's real motive in pushing religious toleration.




Three Young White Men and a Black Woman by Christiaen van Couwenbergh
the eavesdropping paintings of Nicolas Maes
Rembrandt' (Ledikant, c. 1646)
Rembrandt's prints, Rembrandt's women

The erotic realism of Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Jan Steen. The idealized beauties of Johannes Vermeer.


Velazquez (Rokeby Venus, c. 1655)


Tableau de l'amour conjugal, history of sexology

Tableau de l’amour conjugal, ou l'Histoire complète de la génération de l’homme is a book by French physician Nicolas Venette.

This book, first published in 1686 in Amsterdam under the title Tableau de l'amour humain considéré dans l'état du mariage under the pseudonym Salocini, Vénitien (anagram of Nicolas Venette), is considered the first work on sexology in the Western world. A veritable bestseller, it was republished 33 times until 1903, and was translated in English (The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Reveal'd), Spanish, German and Dutch (Venus minsieke gasthuis).

See also

17th century, 17th century art, 17th century literature, baroque
Poussin, Rubens, Bernini, Cagnacci

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