18th century French erotica  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

18th century, 18th century French art, 18th century French literature, 18th century erotica, Thérèse Philosophe, Le Dieu Priape

Thérèse Philosophe (1748) by Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens
Thérèse Philosophe (1748) by Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

During the swan song of the Ancien Régime of 18th century France, the arts saw a veritable barrage of imagery and writings considered erotic or pornographic.

Literature is known for its libertine novels, ranging from Les liaisons dangereuses to Sade's carnography and even L'Encyclopédie has a lemma on "volupté".

The terms pornography and erotica were not yet attested in the English language, but French writer Restif de la Bretonne had already used the term pornography in his 1769 work Le Pornographe.

Painting went through successive stages. The century started with two sensual art movements: opulent baroque and frivolous rococo but ended with the repressed sexuality of puritan neoclassicism.



During the Enlightenment, many of the French free-thinkers began to exploit pornography as a medium of social criticism and satire. Libertine pornography was a subversive social commentary and often targeted the Catholic Church and general attitudes of sexual repression. The market for the mass-produced, inexpensive pamphlets soon became the bourgeoisie, making the upper class worry, as in England, that the morals of the lower class and weak-minded would be corrupted since women, slaves and the uneducated were seen as especially vulnerable during that time. The stories and illustrations (sold in the galleries of the Palais Royal, along with services of prostitutes) were often anti-clerical and full of misbehaving priests, monks and nuns, a tradition that in French pornography continued into the 20th century. In the period leading up to the French Revolution, pornography was also used as political commentary; Marie Antoinette was often targeted with fantasies involving orgies, lesbian activities and the paternity of her children, and rumors circulated about the supposed sexual inadequacies of Louis XVI.

During and after the Revolution, the famous works of the Marquis de Sade were printed. They were often accompanied by illustrations and served as political commentary for their author.

The English answer to this was Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (later abridged and renamed Fanny Hill) written in 1748 by John Cleland.


18th century French erotica


French literature of the 18th century, French literature, libertine novel

The libertine novel was an 18th century literary genre of which the roots lay in the European but mainly French libertine tradition. The genre effectively ended with the French Revolution. Themes of libertine novels were anti-clericalism, anti-establishment and eroticism.

Authors include Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (Le Sopha, conte moral, 1742), Denis Diderot (Les Bijoux indiscrets, 1748), Marquis de Sade (L'Histoire de Juliette, 1797-1801) and Choderlos de Laclos (Les Liaisons dangereuses, 1782).

Other famous titles are Histoire de Dom Bougre, Portier des Chartreux (1741) and Thérèse Philosophe (1748).

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

Enfer is French for hell. L'enfer also refers to the private case of the French national library. It was founded in the 1830s and separated works which were an "outrage aux bonnes mœurs" from the rest of the library collection. The contents of this library were cataloged by Pascal Pia and Guillaume Apollinaire in the 1913 Les livres de l'Enfer, and in 2007 the "Enfer" was opened to the public in an exhibition titled Eros au secret.

Robert Darnton is a cultural historian who has covered this genre extensively.

Histoire de Dom Bougre (1741)

Histoire de Dom Bougre, Portier des Chartreux (1741)

Histoire de Dom Bougre, Portier des Chartreux is a French libertine novel from 1741 attributed to Gervaise de Latouche. The name Bougre refers to the French term boulgre meaning bugger.

Dom Bougre designated the famous abbé Desfontaines.

The novel was republished in 1778 as Mémoires de Saturnin (Paris, Cazin).

Le Sopha, conte moral (1742)

Le Sopha, conte moral, (1742)

Le Sopha, conte moral is a 1742 libertine novel by Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon.

The story concerns a young courtier whose soul in a previous life was cursed to travel from sofa to sofa as a sofa in search of true love and not to be reincarnated in a human body until a man and a woman sincerely in love with each other had consummated their passion on "his" sofa.

Many of the characters in the novel are satirical portraits of influential and powerful Parisians of Crébillon’s time. For this reason the book was published anonymously and with a false imprint. Nevertheless, Crébillon was discovered to be the author and, as a consequence, he was exiled to a distance of fifty leagues from Paris.

Les Bijoux indiscrets (1748)

Les Bijoux indiscrets, 1748

Les bijoux indiscrets (English title: The Indiscreet Jewels) was Denis Diderot's first novel, published anonymously in 1748. It is an allegory that portrays Louis XV as the sultan Mangogul of the Congo who owns a magic ring that makes women's genitals ("jewels") talk.

A comparable trope that Diderot must have known is found in the ribald fabliau Le Chevalier Qui Fist parler les Cons.

Characters include Zima, Cucufa, Mangogul.

Thérèse Philosophe (1748)

Thérèse philosophe (1748)

Thérèse Philosophe is a 1748 French novel ascribed to Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens.

Thérèse philosophe was devoted to recounting the relationship between highly-publicized trial involving Cathérine Cadière and Jean-Baptiste Girard. This novel was written and published in France, during the Age of Enlightenment. It has been chiefly regarded as a pornographic novel, which accounts for its massive sales in 18th-century France (as pornographic works were the most popular bestsellers of the time, see Darnton). Aside from that however, this novel represents a public conveyance (and arguably perversion) for some ideas of the Philosophes.

Point de lendemain (1777)

Point de lendemain

Point de lendemain is an erotic "conte" by Vivant Denon. Two versions were published, one in 1777, the other in 1812. Dominique Vivant, Baron de Denon (4 January, 174727 April, 1825) was a French artist, writer, diplomat, author, and archaeologist. Dominique was appointed first director of the Louvre Museum by Napoleon after the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801. He is best-known today for his erotic novel, Point de lendemain, published in 1777 (in 1812 as a separate work), and of a number of erotic etchings such as the Priapées et sujets divers from which the Le Phallus phénoménal stems.

Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782)

Les Liaisons dangereuses, 1782

Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) is a famous French epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, first published in 1782.

The book fascinates with its dark undertones. It is the story of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals who use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, all the while enjoying their cruel games. It also depicts the decadence of the French aristocracy shortly before the French Revolution; thus it is seen as a work that exposes the perversions of the so-called Ancien Régime.

The book is an epistolary novel, composed entirely of letters written by the various characters to each other. In particular, the letters between Valmont and the Marquise drive the plot, with those of other characters serving as illustrations to give the story its depth.

The story has been adapted as a film several times—notably in 1988 as Dangerous Liaisons, directed by Stephen Frears, in 1989 as Valmont, directed by Miloš Forman with screenplay by Jean-Claude Carrière, and in 1999 as Cruel Intentions, written and directed by Roger Kumble.

The novel is often claimed to be the origin of the saying "Revenge is a dish best served cold". However the expression does not actually occur in the original novel.

Erotika Biblion (1783)

Erotika Biblion, 1783

Erotika Biblion is a book by Comte de Mirabeau first published in 1783. It describes a series of coded sexual practices.

Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome (1785)

Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome ou l’École du libertinage, 1785

The 120 Days of Sodom or the School of Freedoms (Les 120 journées de Sodome ou l'école du libertinage) is a book written by the French writer Marquis de Sade in 1784. It relates the story of four wealthy men who enslaved 24 mostly teenaged victims and sexually tortured them while listening to stories told by old prostitutes.

The book was not published until 1905. Due to its extreme sexual and violent nature, the book remained banned in many countries for a long time. The film adaptation by Pasolini underwent a similar fate.

La Religieuse (1796)

La Religieuse (novel)

La Religieuse (The Nun) is an 18th century French novel, by Denis Diderot. Completed in c. 1780, the work was first published in installments between 1780 and 1782 in Correspondance littéraire, a private newsletter in. In view of Diderot's previous run-ins with the authorities it wasn't published as a novel until 1796, after his death. In English it is called The Nun, or Memoirs of a Nun in Francis Birrell's translation.

The novel was supposedly begun originally not as a work for literary consumption but as an elaborate practical joke aimed at luring the Marquis de Croismare, a companion of Diderot's, back to Paris. The novel is told in a series of letters purporting to be from a nun, Suzanne, who implores the Marquis to help her in renouncing her vows, and describes her intolerable life in the convent.

Diderot later revised the letters into a novel and publicly revealed his role in the ruse. The Marquis is said to have laughed at the revelation.

L'Histoire de Juliette (1797-1801)

L'Histoire de Juliette (1797-1801)

Juliette is a novel written by the Marquis de Sade and published 17971801, accompanying Sade's Nouvelle Justine. Whilst Justine, Juliette's sister, was a virtuous woman who consequently encountered nothing but despair and abuse, Juliette is an amoral nymphomaniac who ends up successful and happy.

The full title of the novel in the original French is Histoire de Juliette ou les Prospérités du vice, and the English title is "Juliette, or Vice Amply Rewarded" or "Justine; or Good Conduct Well-Chastised".

Both Justine and Juliette were published anonymously. Napoleon ordered the arrest of the author, and as a result Sade was incarcerated without trial for the last 13 years of his life.


Antoine François Prévost (1697 - 1763)

Antoine François Prévost

Antoine François Prévost (April 1, 1697 - December 23, 1763), usually known simply as the Abbé Prévost, was a French author and novelist best known for his forbidden sentimental novel Manon Lescaut.

Restif de la Bretonne (1734 – 1806)

Restif de la Bretonne

Nicolas-Edme Rétif or Nicolas-Edme Restif (October 23, 1734February 2, 1806), called Rétif de la Bretonne, was a French novelist, author of fiction works such as The Anti-Justine (1798) and non-fiction Le Pornographe. He was the son of a farmer, and was born at Sacy (Yonne). The term retifism was named after him. The Anti-Justine : or, the Joys of Eros, first published in French in 1798 as L'Anti-Justine. It is an erotic novel by Restif de la Bretonne. It was a reaction to Sade's Justine, using a very similar style to describe a directly opposite political point of view.The English edition is currently published by Creation Books.

"The Anti-Justine is a pornographic novelization of Restif de la Bretonne's own life and sexual debauches, which the author tried to defend "morally" by declaring his book to be an "antidote" to the supposed poison of de Sade; yet the book is a monumental odyssey of sexual depravity that often rivals de Sade in its relentless explicitness.
"First published in 1798, this erotic classic is now published in a brand new translation. This novel was de la Breton's attempt to write something even more obscene than the books of his arch-rival de Sade. It is one of the last classic of erotica currently out-of-print and this new edition will restore it to an avid readership. --Creation Books book description

Andréa de Nerciat (1739 - 1800)

Andréa de Nerciat

André Robert de Nerciat (Dijon, 1739 - Naples, 1800) was a French writer of libertine novels and erotic fiction, best known for his novel Le Diable au corps. He was the son of a royal official in Burgundy. He retired from the military in 1775 and worked as a writer of plays, verse, light music and pornographic novels, while also serving as a secret agent of the French government across Europe. He may also have worked as a double agent, as he was arrested by the French when they invaded Naples in 1798.

He is the author of several libertine novels such as Félicia, ou Mes Fredaines (1772), le Doctorat impromptu (1788), Mon noviciat, ou Les Joies de Lolotte (1792), Monrose, ou Le Libertin par fatalité (1792), les Aphrodites (1793) and posthumously le Diable au corps (1803).

His work was collected in L’œuvre du chevalier Andréa de Nerciat.

Marquis de Sade (1740 – 1814)

Marquis de Sade

Marquis de Sade (June 2, 1740 – December 2, 1814) was a French aristocrat and writer of philosophy-laden and often violent carnography and pornography. His is a philosophy of extreme freedom (or at least licentiousness), unrestrained by morality, religion or law, with the pursuit of personal pleasure being the highest principle. Sade was incarcerated in various prisons and insane asylums for just under 29 years (out of a total of 74, see Sade in prison) of his life; much of his writing was done during his imprisonment. The term "sadism" is derived from his name and the French literary prize Prix Sade has been installed in his honour.

Minor writers


Visual arts

18th century art

From the beginning of the century to the French Revolution the House of Bourbon, the French royal house of the 18th century were under the spell of frivolous gallantry, with painters such as Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard.

During the French Revolution, France's "official" art became neoclassicism, which was noted by its asexuality. Nevertheless, details from the work of JL David and some strains of homoeroticism paid tribute to Eros. Other neoclassicists such as Guérin dabbled in eroticism.

The outsider Jean-Jacques Lequeu makes a considerable contribution towards the end of the century.

Antoine Watteau (1684 - 1721)


Jean-Antoine Watteau (October 10, 1684July 18, 1721) was a French painter whose brief career spurred the revival of interest in colour and movement (in the tradition of Correggio and Rubens), and revitalized the waning Baroque idiom, which eventually became known as Rococo. He is credited with inventing the genre of fêtes galantes: scenes of bucolic and idyllic charm, suffused with an air of theatricality. Some of his best known subjects were drawn from the world of Italian comedy and ballet.

He is known for such paintings as Jupiter and Antiope and La Toilette.

François Boucher (1703 - 1770)

François Boucher

François Boucher (September 29 1703May 30 1770) was a French painter, a proponent of Rococo taste, known for his idyllic and voluptuous paintings on classical themes, decorative - often erotic - allegories representing the arts or pastoral occupations, and intended as a sort of two-dimensional furniture. He painted several portraits of his illustrious patroness, Madame de Pompadour and is best-known for his depictions of Marie-Louise O'Murphy.

In 1752, at fourteen years of age, O'Murphy posed nude for a memorable and provocative portrait by artist François Boucher. Her beauty caught the eye of Louis XV. He took her as one of his mistresses, and she quickly became a favourite, giving birth to the king's illegitimate daughter, Agathe Louise de Saint-Antoine (17541774). General de Beaufranchet is also thought to have been her child but conceived legitimately with the comte de Beaufranchet.

Fragonard (1732 - 1806)


Jean-Honoré Fragonard (April 5, 1732August 22, 1806) was a French painter and printmaker whose late Rococo manner was distinguished by remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism. One of the most prolific artists active in the last decades of the ancien régime, Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings (not counting drawing and etchings), of which only five are dated. Among his most popular works are genre paintings conveying the atmosphere of intimacy and veiled eroticism.

The Swing (L'Escarpolette), also known as The Happy Accidents of the Swing (Les Hasards Heureux de l'Escarpolette, the original title), is an 18th century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. It is considered as one of the masterpieces of the rococo era. The painting depicts a young man hidden in the bushes, watching a woman on a swing, being pushed by a bishop. As the lady goes high on the swing, she let him take a furtive peep under her dress. As a symbol of loss of virginity, the lady let one of her shoes fly into the air.

Minor artists

Jacques Gautier d'Agoty (1717 - 1786)
Jacques Gautier d'Agoty, Hermaphrodite (d'Agoty)

Jacques Gautier d'Agoty was a French engraver, born in Marseille in 1717, died in 1786.

A student of Jakob Christoph Le Blon, he perfected the art of engraving and especially the technique of mezzotint color engraving by combining 4 in stead of 3 colors (black, blue, yellow and red).

He published his complete anatomical engravings in Myologie complète.

Antoine Borel (1743 - 1810)
Antoine Borel
Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757 – 1826)
Jean-Jacques Lequeu

Jean-Jacques Lequeu (Rouen, September 14 175728 March 1826) was a French draughtsman and visionary architect.

Born in Rouen, he won a scholarship to go to Paris, but following the French revolution his architectural career never took off.

He spent time preparing the Architecture Civile, a book intended for publication, but which was never published. Most of his drawings can be found at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Some of them are sexually explicit (Le Dieu Priape [1] (ca. 1779 - 1795) which shows a rather large male phallus and Trois images du sexe féminin) and are kept in the Enfer of the library. Most of these drawings have been reproduced in Duboy's book but can also be found in Sade / Surreal.



Madame de Gourdan

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "18th century French erotica" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools