Friday, June 29, 2012

A Fun, Informative and Oh-So-Sexy Book on Erotic Art

How to Read Erotic Art
By Flavio Febbraro and
Alexandra Wetzel
© Abrams Books, 2011
Click here to purchase from
I was skeptical when I saw the title of Flavio Febbraro's handsome volume, How to Read Erotic Art. That's all we need, I thought -- more dry, cerebral artspeak to take all the fun out of erotic art. So I was very pleased to discover that the texts in How to Read Erotic Art are written in straight forward prose that give historical, cultural and psychological insights into the many eras and cultures in which the work was made, educating and enhancing viewing pleasure.

From the Venus of Willendorf's voluminous naked body to the ambiguous sexual traits of Louise Bourgeois's sewn soft sculptures, How to Read Erotic Art presents 220 illustrations of beauty, love, lust and sex through the ages. The end of antiquity and rise of Christianity marked a clear dividing line in Western art's depiction of sex. Portrayal of the seemingly uninhibited lustiness of the ancients disappears in the west, while Indian art, on the other hand, more than fills the gap.

Most of the erotic images since the Middle Ages were directed at and interpreted by the male gaze, hence the preponderance of female nudes and male artists. I counted only seven women of the 200+ artists represented, five of whom were from the 20th century.  

Hans Baldung Grien, Three Witches,
1514. Chiaroscuro print on paper,
30.9 x 20.9 cm., Vienna,
Graphische Sammlung Albertina
A detail from a sarcophagus from the Ptolemaic period in Egypt, The Reawakening of Osiris, shows Osiris lying on the ground, semen spurting from his penis so high that it actually leaves the frame of the picture.

A 530 BC frieze from a tomb in the Etruscan city of Tarquinia, The Tomb of the Bulls, shows two men engaged in an act of sodomy while a bull, head lowered, seems about to charge. 

A beautiful marble from the second century, Sleeping Hermaphrodite, a Roman copy of an earlier Greek sculpture, shows what appears to be a voluptuous young woman stretched out on a bed. Closer inspection reveals that this figure, besides breasts and female curves, also has male genitalia.

Homo-erotic and lesbian scenes, such as Thomas Eakins's Swimming, showing naked young men in an idyllic landscape and Toulouse-Lautrec's The Kiss, depicting two women on a bed locked in an embrace are included.
The Warren Cup,
AD 5-15. Silver Skyphos, 11cm (h.).
London, British Museum
Prostitutes are well represented, from the sacred, such as the Indian Devadāsi, and a 14th century tapestry, The Great Whore that Sitteth upon Many Waters, to the profane, such as Vermeer's The Procuress, showing the exchange of money between concerned parties, and Otto Dix's The Salon I, depicting four scantily clad prostitutes at a brothel. 

Numerous close-up details from the main images reveal a wealth interesting information. An enchanting oil painting from 1470, The Spell of Love, is accompanied by a detail that shows an otherwise naked witch wearing only poulaines, extremely long-toed pointed (and may I say, downright kinky) sandals worn by both men and women of the era. Another detail shows a drawing by Picasso in which a woman's menstrual blood has turned the water in the bidet red. A colored Japanese woodcut print shows a woman using a large dildo attached to her heel.

Katsushika Hokusai, Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, 1814, woodcut from Kinoe no komatsu
(Young Pines), 31.5 x 147 cm., London, British Library

The lush illustrations together with the texts depicting androgeny, homo-erotica, lesbian love, heterosexuals, hermaphrodites, prostitutes, witches, rape, seduction, bacchanalia, orgies, sacred and profane love, and more, make How to Read Erotic Art an informative, fun, and sexy addition to any collection.

Click here to buy from

Upcoming at Offramp Gallery

June 24 - August 5, 2012
Lou Beach: Stories & Pictures

Closing Reception, Reading & Book Signing: Sunday, August 5, 2-5pm

In the Garden
June 24 - August 5, 2012
Jay Willis: Ring of Fire
Closing Reception: Sunday, August 5, 2-5pm

Sunday, August 5, 2012, 3pm
LOU BEACH 420 Characters
Reading & Book Signing



  1. I used to date a woman who had that octopus image blown up and hanging over her bed.
    Fun girl...

    The Met has a cup very like the one shown here from the British Museum. I wonder if there were a lot of them. (The one in NYC has a heterosexual couple on the other side.)

    I have to say I find the three witches distinctly ANTI-erotic. Mais peut-etre bien est-ce que c'est moi.

    Meanwhile, having just watched a bit on the relationship between "Shades of Grey" and the new male stripper movie, I suspect we may be seeing more of women's POV's on all this in the near future. (Never mind the frank talk on "2 Broke Girls".)

  2. If it is not already included in "how to read erotic art" I suggest my personal favorite: take your clothing off.

  3. I once dated an octopus that had a girl blown up and hanging over her bed.