From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
During the 17th century -- an era that is usually designated as the baroque age -- ideas of the Renaissance are disseminated all over Europe. We are in an intermediate century: the Enlightenment has yet to begin, remnants of medieval occult thinking still stick to this century as pollen to a bee. The libertine and anti-clerical intellectual climate of the 18th century is in its embryonic stages.
The prime locus of erotic literature shifts from Italy to France, which will become the epicenter erotic writing. The genre of the whore dialogue is now firmly in the saddle with new publications as L'École des filles (School for Girls, 1655), Académie des dames (Ladies Academy, 1659) and Venus dans le cloître (Venus in the Cloister, 1683) [Image].
More babbling whores are to be found in Italian books with evocative titles like La Retorica delle puttane (The Whore’s Rhetoric, 1642), a fiercely anticlerical work, and La Puttana Errante (The wandering whore, ca 1650-1660). L'Alcibiade, fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the schoolboy, 1652) is yet another work to defend pederasty and in England, the erotic masterpiece of the Baroque comes from the notorious British libertine John Wilmot, in all probability it was he who was the writer of the ribald and deadly funny play Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery (Sodom, or the quintessence of debauchery, 1684).
In the domain of the visual arts, the progressive enrichment of the middle class, provides for an even broader market for erotic imagery. The majority of these images are paintings commissioned by princes, nobles and gentry, but painters like Rembrandt also engage in mass market engraving.
There are several highlights in the ocular arts, very diverse, including The Monk and the Nun [image] by Dutchman Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem (1562-1638), which illustrates the budding anticlericalism, the unbearably sensual marble The Rape of Proserpina [image] by the Italian Bernini, The Young Martyr [image] and The Death of Cleopatra [image] by Guido Cagnacci (1601-1663), the fresh and frivoulous La Bohémienne [image] by the Dutchman Frans Hals (1583-1666), the decadent and voyeuristic canvas Venus (or a Nymph) Spied On by Satyrs by the French artist Nicolas Poussin [image], the sweaty and sultry Ledikant [image] by the Dutch Rembrandt (1606/1607-1669), the voluptuous portrait of Hélène Fourment [image] by the Flemish master Rubens, the voyeuristic Lady at her Toilette [image] by compatriot Jan Steen (1625/1626-1679) [in caption, her garter marks are visible on her legs] , the teasing Rokeby Venus [image] by the Spaniard Velázquez and the unattainable Girl with a Pearl Earring [image] by the Dutchman Vermeer.
The period saw a continuation of the tradition of mythological paintings, new elements of anticlericalism both in literature and in the visual arts, the realism of the Dutch painters and the obese women of Rubens. This variety of form is evidence of an erotic market with eager buyers among the libertine nobility and liberal bourgeoisie. However, at the same time, the epoch sees the rise of the Counter-Reformation, noted by a tightening of Christian morality, that will lead at the beginning of the century to such unfortunate excesses such as the burning at the stake of freethinker Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).