What is erotic art?

The definition of erotic art is mostly subjective. Primarily it depends on the context since the perception of the people vary for both the words ‘erotic’ and ‘art’. Some may perceive things that are used to illustrate sex education, as inappropriately erotic. As per the definition prescribed by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, erotic art is an “art that is made to stimulate its target audience sexually, and that succeeds to some extent in doing so”. Any artistic work that depicts scenes of sexual activity and intends to erotic arousal can be called as erotic art. The arts include drawings, engravings, films, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and writing.

Erotic art is any genre of art that suggests sexual love, pleasure, and desire. Artworks like the effect of the performance of facial expressions and gestures, color and relations of objects or arrangement of clothing depict the sexual subject matter. Due to the aesthetic operations of the work, erotic feelings may be produced. Though there are exceptions, not all nudity or showcase of sexual activity will provoke erotic feelings in the viewers. It very much depends on the context in which the work is perceived or what the artist wanted to say through the art. There is a difference between erotic art and pornography. Pornography consists of scenes of a sexual encounter to evoke erotic arousal; however, that is usually not considered as fine art.

See more genres of visual art in this article.

The term ‘erotic’ is derived from the word ‘Eros’. Eros is the name of the Greek God of love. The paintings are mainly done on ceramics, glass, prints, and etchings. Erotic art is generally referred to as the work which has an aesthetic contribution to the fine art world. It is a part of a culture’s artistic tradition. Though the opinions vary in different cultures and keep changing with time. What might have been considered pornographic and obscene at one point of time by a certain culture might be considered as an extraordinary fine art at another point of time by people of another culture. Erotic art has been a part f human expression since ancient times. Statues of erect phalluses and fecund women have been contributing to an erotic fine art. Artifacts from primitive cultures throughout the world are examples of sexuality in the early days’ rites and cultures.

History of Erotic Art concerning the Ancient Times

The history of Western art reveals that eroticism was considered to be been hidden and condemned. For centuries, people had to look up to mythological and religious works for representations of the naked body. Some of the illustrations are; a nude Venus (goddess of love and beauty) and a portrait of Adam and Eve as a symbol of sin in paradise. It is quite recently that erotic art has become transgressive. It has achieved freedom from the chains of myths and religions and it offers a fury of desire in human mankind. Art has become an expression of the subconscious power of which sexuality is one of the many demonstrations.

  • Pottery, paintings, and sculptures from ancient cultures of Egypt, Rome, Greece, and India have been featuring images of copulation and nudity both in the lives of deities and everyday practices of rulers and nobles.
  • In Egypt, papyrus scrolls and murals were presents the sexual practices of various Gods. Those also include a variety of heterosexual sexual positions.
  • Greece took eroticism as an everyday activity. They painted images of various forms of heterosexual and homosexual behaviors on walls, pottery, and items used at home on daily basis such as terracotta lamps, vases, bowls and dishes. Greek statues showcased male and female nudity. The statues bearing large erect phalluses were placed by the sides of the roads.
  • Roman statues featured nudity and oversized erections. Rome followed the erotic art of the Greeks.
  • In India and the Far East, erotic art was seen in manuscripts as well as on temple walls. A similar range of overtly sexual practices and nudity was seen in Europe.
  • Sexuality took a hole in Europe much later. It came in with the rise of libertines.

The practice of Erotic Art in Modern Europe

The painting skills improved during the Renaissance period. More focus was given to the interpretation of the human figure, the expression of physical details and arrangements that may be considered as erotic such as a seminude breast or a nearly nude soldier. Some arts depicted sexual scenes openly and renewed the interest in the lives of Greek and Roman deities. Some of the legitimate features of the paintings were rape, seduction, and nudity. During the Renaissance, erotic paintings became more subtle in the suggestion of seduction to come.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the interest in erotic art shifted from pleasure to quest for information about the sexual activity. After the Renaissance, eroticism was divided largely into two groups, fine art paintings that were produced for the wealthy group of people and satirical prints for the common countrymen. Private art was done in the form of painting which usually depicted half-undressed women and women displaying signs of sexual activity. French paintings portrayed every aspect like sadomasochism, group sex, and homosexual subject.

In the nineteenth century, the artists eventually shifted the depiction of eroticism from action the actions of pagan Gods to natural and realistic portrayals of sex among modern people. The artists of this century moved towards greater realism. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the figures drawn on the paintings were mostly clothed, however, by the mid-century, figures in more of the body were revealed. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, painters started focusing on prostitutes and entertainers as a serious subject of their art. Clothed figures gave way to more naked figures most of the prostitutes who were the painter’s sympathetic portrayals.

Erotic Art in India

The year 1999 is marked as a great symbolic step in the history of the erotic arts of India. It was two thousand years ago when the sage Vatsyayana wrote his landmark manuscript called ‘Kama sutra’ which means ‘erotic codes’. One thousand years after that, the Chandella kings (950-1050A.D.) built the finest groups of temples in India which depicted the erotic positions. These temples were built at Khajuraho. In the fast-paced today’s world, the values and sanctity attached to erotica have changed big time. The Erotic Arts of India have mainly three sources:

  • Paintings – Paintings were delicate, hence only a few them survived the onslaught of climatic hazards and time. The Narasimha Swamy temple of Sibi has rare wall-paintings which are praiseworthy. Ancient books such as “Sougandhikaparinaya” and “Shritatwanidhi” contain erotic illustrations. Indian miniatures like Basholi, Kangra and Rajasthan styles have produced innumerable erotic paintings.
  • Wood Carvings – Many temples in India celebrate a chariot festival annually. They are known as a mobile temple. It is built with hardwoods such as teak. There are mythological themes carved around the chariot panel. At times, the panels contain explicit erotic carvings which are astonishing.
  • Sculptures – The sculptures have remained intact for centuries, in spite of mutilations by religious fanatics. The erotic sculptures of Khajuraho (in Madhya Pradesh) and Bhubaneswar (in Orissa) have gained publicity widely. In Karnataka also, there is a large number of such temples and sculptures. Some of the Indian temples which are famous for erotic sculptures are:

1.Sun Temple, Modhera – It is one of the ancient temples situated in Gujarat. It was built when the Solanki Dynasty ruled the country. It is the temple for Sun. One of the outer walls of the temple has sexual figures which relate to the Tantric tradition.

2.Khajuraho Temples – They are famous for sex sculptures. The figures portray the concepts of Kama Sutra. The Khajuraho temples are UNESCO World Heritage sites in Madhya Pradesh.

3.Bhoramdeo Temple – The interesting fact is that most of the temples with erotica are related to Shiva or Shakti. Even the Tantric tradition believes Shakti and Bhairava as their prime deities. Bhoramdeo is also known as the ‘Khajuraho of Chhattisgarh’.

4.Ranakpur Temple – The erotic carvings are also found in Jain temples. Ranakpur temple is one of the ancient Jain temples where the sex sculptures are carved out. The marble architecture of Ranakpur Temple holds the passionate carvings of lovers and sexual practices.

5.Virupaksha Temple, Hampi – It is one of the living temples in the heritage of Hampi. Here Lord Shiva is worshipped as Virupaksha. You will find some amazing erotic sculptures on the exterior walls of the temple.

Some best works of Erotic Art in the world

  • Katsukawa Shun’ei – British Museum
  • Andrea Riccio – London
  • Picasso – Tate, London
  • Egon Schiele – Budapest
  • After Michelangelo – National Gallery, London
  • Rembrandt – Amsterdam
  • Salvador Dalí – Madrid
  • Giulio Romano – British Museum
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
  • Jeff Koons – Whitney Museum, New York

Art always has a link to expression, passion, and sensuality. Surprisingly, across the centuries, there are unambiguous depictions of the naked glory. Erotic depictions in art went through a fundamental repositioning over the years.