European erotica  

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"When European obscenity laws were liberalised in the late sixties and early seventies, countless auteurs wanted to push the boundaries off the map, with decidedly varying motives. Some bordered on pure prurience. Walerian Borowczyk was one of the world’s foremost avant-garde animators in the sixties; in 1977 he directed Emmanuelle '77 and Behind Convent Walls. Others, however, mined gold in this new territory, or at least staked a claim to their own swath of ground. Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972) and Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses may be the best known taboo-busting films of the period, finding something worthwhile in the anonymous or obsessive character of the overexposed relationships of their protagonists. But there are other forgotten gems to unearth.

In Claude Chabrol’s La Rupture (1970), pornography becomes a brainwashing device, which makes for interesting parallels with Kubrick’s infinitely less restrained A Clockwork Orange (1971). Dusan Makavejev, central to the Yugoslavian Black Wave, was one of cinema’s true anarchists, and his WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) is an insane blend of faux Communist propaganda and documentary footage of Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Accumulator boxes, designed to capture libidinal Orgone energy. There are dozens of other auteurs who dabbled in the sexplicit in the seventies, from Godard (Numéro Deux) to Pasolini (Salo) to Miklos Jancso (Private Vices and Public Virtues), and some, like Jean Rollin and Radley Metzger, made their careers blending soft-focus erotica with quasi-artistic agendas.

In 1980 it all stopped."--Kaleem Aftab and Ian Stewart[1]

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world erotica

The early history of European erotica starts with ancient erotica, most notably Greek and Roman erotica.



Mainland Europe, especially France, Scandinavia and the Netherlands has a reputation for sexual freedom unknown in the puritanical Anglo-Saxon world.

Paris is the capital of erotic art and the Netherlands has enjoyed freedom of the press since the enlightenment era.

Many British upper class Grand Tour travellers were shocked by the sexual explicitness of the artworks they found in Europe.

An example of such outrage can be found in the writings of American author Mark Twain:

In his 1880 travelogue A Tramp Abroad Mark Twain called the Venus of Urbino 'the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses'. He proposed that 'it was painted for a bagnio and it was probably refused because it was a trifle too strong', adding humorously that 'in truth, it is a trifle too strong for any place but a public art gallery'.

By region

From the perspective of stereotypes, one can discern Casanova as Italian lover, Don Juan as Spanish lover, Faust as German lover, Byron as English lover, Abelard as French lover

French erotica

French erotica

No nation has enjoyed a greater reputation for producing and tolerating erotica --from the 17th century libertine novels to the "whore dialogues" to the original Pads edition of Joyce's Ulysses-- than France. Philosophe Denis Diderot penned an 18th-century novel featuring talking body parts, while poet Guillaume Apollinaire spiced up one of his short works with fetishism. And then there's Gay Paree, Marquis de Sade and Brigitte Bardot.

Scandinavian erotica

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Scandinavia (Sweden and Denmark in particular) was seen as an international leader in what is now referred to as the "sexual revolution", with gender equality and abolishing censorship having particularly been promoted.

German erotica

German erotica

The Germanophone people are often stereotyped of having, like the Dutch, a scatological sensibility, more than an erotic one.

The German-speaking people have been, at least since the 19th century, very influential in both sittengeschichte and sexology with a 20th century apotheosis in Freud.

British erotica

British erotica

Along with Paris, London in the second half of the 19th century was one of the first modern, urbanized societies with a literate population. Literacy is one of the prerequisites for the spreading of printed erotica and pornography. Henry Spencer Ashbee's bibliography has proven to be invaluable in documenting this period of erotic fiction.

The quintessential English erotic novel is Fanny Hill, but even Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa provided voyeuristic satisfaction to a new English audience. The development and rise of the novel as new genre, parallels the development of the erotic novel.

Even in the 17th century, when France had the reputation for erotica, and some English erotica consisted of French translations (the famous "whore dialogues") there were local authors of bawdy erotica like John Wilmot.

A special mention must go to the authors of Grub Street.

English erotica has some characteristics of its own, the most notable is that they are believed to be fond of spanking and flagellation. The French even called it Le vice anglais. Theresa Berkeley ran a brothel specializing in these services.

More regions

By medium

Visual art

European erotic art

In Europe, starting with the Renaissance, there was a tradition of producing erotica for the amusement of the aristocracy. In the early 16th century, the text I Modi was a woodcut album created by the designer Giulio Romano, the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi and the poet Pietro Aretino. In 1601 Caravaggio painted the "Love Triumphant," for the collection of the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani. The latter is reputed to have kept it hidden behind a curtain to show only to his friends, as it was seen as a blatant celebration of sodomy. The tradition is continued by other, more modern painters, such as Fragonard, Courbet, Millet, Balthus, Picasso, Edgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Egon Schiele, who served time in jail and had several works destroyed by the authorities for offending turn-of-the-century Austrian mores with his depiction of nude young girls, and so on.


One striking aspect of pre-industrial European erotic literature is the preponderance of female characters. Two early 17th century French works, L'École des filles and L’Academie des Dames, were written as female dialogues — a literary device that was to be repeated many times over the next century in works such as John Cleland’s Fanny Hill and the Marquis de Sade’s Juliette.


European erotic film, Sex and nudity in European cinema

European movies are famous for their erotic scenes, particularly those from Italy, France and Germany. Pedro Almodovar of Spain is a prolific director who includes eroticism as part of many of his movies. Tinto Brass, from Italy, has dedicated his career to converting explicit sex into mainstream content. His films are also notable for feminist-friendly eroticism. French filmmaker Catherine Breillat caused controversy with unsimulated sex in her films Romance and Anatomy of Hell. In Italy, nudity and strong sexual themes go back to the silent era with films such as The Last Days of Pompeii (1926). In Spain there was Jess Franco and Germany had its early Aufklärungsfilme.

See also

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

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