User:Jahsonic/AHE/Baroquerotica/The erotic realism of Rembrandt
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The term 'erotic realism' is first introduced in the book What is Pornography? (1959) by Eberhard Kronhausen and his wife Phyllis, to distinguish between pornography and erotica: "In pornography the main purpose is to stimulate erotic response in the reader. In erotic realism, truthful description of the basic realities of life." The term 'erotic response' should be read here as 'being horny'.
Rembrandt (1606-1669) is born about thirty years after Rubens. Along with Vermeer, he belongs to the cream of the Dutch painters. A penchant for everyday subjects and ordinary, homely details characterizes much of his work and that is why Rembrandt is often named an early realist or naturalist. He distances himself from the idealization which is still evident in the work of Rubens and generously embraces ordinary life around him. This produces some remarkable erotic-realistic works, both paintings and prints.
Rembrandt's extramarital conquests are the muses and models in his more intimate work. One of his dalliances is Hendrickje Stoffels, twenty years younger than the master when she comes into his service as 21-year old maidservant. It is not long before their relationship deepens. She can hardly be called a beauty, as we can tell from the portraits. But Rembrandt finds her attracive and he paints her in one of his works in nothing more than a fur coat, like Rubens did with his Hélène. Stoffels is also a model for Bathsheba at Her Bath [image] in his canvas of 1654, but she really shines in the same year in Woman Stepping into a Stream [image]. Without doubt a most beautiful and very delicate work in which her nudity is accentuated by the shirt she wears, which seems to make her more naked, more real and more accessible than if she had worn no clothing whatsoever.
The erotic realism of Rembrandt is even clearer in his - lesser known - prints. These etchings have no equivalent in his oil paintings. The reason being that prints have always been part of the private sphere, produced to be enjoyed in private - a totally different medium than traditional painting. Part of that series of racy etchings include Ledikant, Woman Under A Tree, The Monk in the Cornfield, Jupiter and Antiope and Joseph and Potiphar's Wife.
The etchings reveal a Rembrandt completely under the spell of the bodily functions. In The Woman under a Tree Rembrandt depicts a urinating woman, in Joseph and Potiphar's Wife a very obese and domineering matron, in Jupiter and Antiope a sleeping beauty spied on by a lecherous satyr; the misleadingly titled The Monk in the Cornfield depicts a monk in a field having his way with a peasant girl.
The most remarkable print is is Ledikant. Of composition, it is similar to The Monk, with a man on top of a woman in missionary position. In a funny detail we notice that the woman has three hands: one right hand and two left hands, one embracing her partner and the other resting motionless beside her on the bed. We can imagine how Rembrandt wants to emphasize the savage fury of the coitus and thus unknowingly became a precursor to the art of the comic book and the photographic technique of multiple as well as long exposure.
Just like every other artist, Rembrandt is indebted to Ovid's Metamorphoses. In 1636 Rembrandt stages Danae in a traditional bed scene with a very attractive hourglass figure. [Image] Many contemporary critics disliked the realism of Rembrandt vehemently, especially in his female nudes. The mediocre Dutch poet Andries Pels complained about the "flabby breasts, distorted hands ... and the marks of the garters about the legs."
One would not hand it to the Dutch - they are generally known as little sensual and Calvinistic people - but at the time of Rembrandt; the Dutch Golden Age, Eros ran rampant, with work by Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Vermeer, who with his work Girl with a Pearl Earring produces one of the beauties of the 17th century painting. They don't call her for nothing the 'Mona Lisa of the North'. A very enigmatic work of Vermeer is The Procuress: it depicts a young prostitute who is tucked a coin in her hand by a man whose hand is already fondling her left breast, while her procuress, her madame, is watching approvingly in the background.
The 17th century, more than any previous age, is the time of the one-hit wonders, the mayflies of visual art by painters and etchers who have failed to leave us a significant body of work, but nonetheless highly amusing individual scenes like this print [image] by Theodor Matham (1606-1676), depicting a gentleman stirring the bared breast of a lady. The eroticism is generated here by the great contrast between the fully clothed couple, of whom we can suspect that they barely know each other, and the bare bare chest.
Before we leave the Netherlands and Rembrandt I want to mention two paintings. First there is The Rape of the Negress [image] by Christiaen van Couwenbergh (1604-1667), nowadays more politically correct known by the title Three Young White Men and a Black Woman. Two men are naked and one is dressed. One of the naked men has the black woman on his lap. She makes every effort to escape. The naked man on the left is pointing his finger at the scene and looks at us laughing. The dressed man in the background spreads the palms of his hands in a gesture of disbelief and dismay.
The second work is by Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693) and is called The Eavesdropper [Image]. At first glance, there is nothing sexual or sensual about this painting. But if you look carefully, you see a woman who is eavesdropping in concentration on a conversation between two lovers. Eavesdropping is the aural equivalent of voyeurism and to many erotomaniacs the impetuous and animal-like sounds of lovemaking are a treat in itself, a sweet gift of Eros. Maes makes eavesdropping scenes his speciality and returns time and again to the subject.