Feminine Pleasure And Ecstasy In 10 Works Of Art

April 19, 2017

|Maria Isabel Carrasco

It is truly flesh! You would think it molded by kisses and caresses! You almost expect, when you touch this body, to find it warm.
-Auguste Rodin

Art can speak to everybody in so many different ways and through many languages. Art criticism tends pay close attention to techniques, materials, the arrangement of space, and, of course, what the artist wanted to portray. While all those things are very important to determine the quality of the artwork, many fail to consider what the piece is transmitting in an emotional way. What does the painting, the characters, or the setting convey? What is this painting moving or evoking in the spectator?

Art's main purpose is to touch us, no matter our background, whether we are art specialists, or just happen to walk by the painting. It has the power to appeal to our emotions through a universal  language that doesn't need words, mainly because it speak of our own set of emotions and concerns.

With the passing of time, artists have had a particular interest in portraying women in different contexts and settings. Often envisioned as idealized and mysterious beings, women have been the protagonists of the greatest artworks of all times. For centuries, women have been considered the embodiment of passion, sensuality, and pleasure; however, if we stepped away from the world of art we'd see women tied to strict moral standards and where her pleasure was a taboo subject. 

For centuries, art became the only public space where women could display their deepest desires and experiment pleasure without social or moral boundaries. Join me in this sensual journey where we'll try to unveil the emotions of our protagonists through these 10 paintings of women experimenting pleasure in times where female sexuality was out of the question.

Egon Schiele: Woman With Black Stockings, 1913

femenine pleasure in art schiele
Egon Schiele's work is characterized by its rich eroticism and the portrayal of contorted figures that provoke and invite the spectator to be a part of the scene. Her sensual body is bashful and her legs which are encased in black stockings, hide her body from our sight. Her face is turned towards the spectator and her gaze is playful and inviting. She lures the audience into her own sensual enjoyment and while she may not expose her body fully, the position of her hands and flirtatious countenance are enough to prove that not everything erotic must be explicit.

Artemisia Gentileschi - Danae, 1612

femenine pleasure in art gentileschi
In this portrayal of the myth of Danae, Gentileschi shows the exact moment when Zeus, transformed into a golden rain and possesses our protagonist. Despite her father's attempt to seclude her and stop her from being with a man, Danae seems to be enjoying this heavenly apparition. Her face and left arm are relaxed while her right hand is forming a fist, as if she wants to control the outburst of passions she's experiencing. In the background we see a servant trying to catch this golden rain and stop it from touching the young girl. But this proves futile, Danae has already surrendered and allowed these golden drops to cover her naked body.

Titian - Mars, Venus and Cupid, after 1546

femenine pleasure in art titian
This painting by Titian captures a passionate scene of one of the most iconic love myths, starring Mars, god of war, and Venus, goddess of love, desire, and passion. Escaping from her husband Vulcano, this couple surrenders to a passionate burst of sensuality and desire. She's looking directly into his eyes, not wanting to miss a moment. Her hands do all the magic; while her right arm is grabbing her lover's head and pushing him towards her, the left one is tightly holding the silky cloth that was covering her, showing that she's about to reach an orgasm. We see the little figure of Cupid tightly holding an arrow as if he is about to throw it at the unsuspecting couple. 

Adolphe Weisz - Othello and Desdemona, 20th century

femenine pleasure in art weisz
Shakespeare's Othello tells the story of a man who kills his beloved wife out of baseless jealousy. In this painting by Weisz, Othello is watching his wife in a moment of pleasurable bliss, thinking that what he has been told is true. Desdemona is lying on her bed, immersed in an erotic dream. Her legs are sensually rubbing against each other while one of her hands is touching her breast. Her head, which is shadowed by the golden canopy, is thrown back in pleasure. 

Gustav Klimt - Judith I, 1901

femenine pleasure in art klimt
With his characteristic golden style, Klimt depicts Judith, the Biblical heroine who seduces Holofernes to save her people. This version shows a provocative woman with an enticing look, ready to seduce anyone watching her. Her body language shows that she's a strong, bold woman who would do anything to achieve her goals.

Gustave Courbet - The Sleepers, 1886

femenine pleasure in art courbet
This controversial painting, which was forbidden until 1988, shows a moment of relaxation after sexual intercourse. Their faces are flushed and in rest, and their bodies clutch each other as if in remembrance of the previous passionate encounter. It is in dreams where the most passionate fantasies come to life. 

Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry - The Pearl and the Wave, 1862

femenine pleasure in art baudry
Considered a masterpiece of the nineteenth century, the painting shows a woman lying on a rock while the waves and breeze cover her naked body. This painting, evoking the birth of Venus, shows this woman as the embodiment of a pearl, the most precious treasure of the sea. Her sparkling eyes and playful expressions invite the spectator to witness her erotic encounter with the sea.

Herbert James Draper, Clyties of the Mist, 1912

femenine pleasure in art draper
This painting is a sensual representation of some water-nymphs being embraced in an erotic vortex of passions. While the one in the left looks as if she was fighting against her drives, the two other women have let themselves go with her passions. The myth states that they were in love with Apollo, the sun god, which can be interpreted as if the light or sunbeams hitting directly to her faces approving this outbursts of emotions.

Antonio Allegri da Correggio - Jupiter and Io - c. 1530

femenine pleasure in art correggio
This painting represents the moment where Jupiter, disguised as mist, possesses Io, a priestess. Despite the enfolding darkness, Io appears open to the embrace. Her facial expressions and body language show she's immersed in passion. 

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - Odalisque with Slave, 1839

femenine pleasure in art ingres
Odalisques were women at the service of Turkish aristocratic men, who competed to become concubines or the wives of important men. In this painting, the odalisque seems relaxed while listening to music and showing her sensuality. As if she were immersed in an erotic daydream, her face and her hands seem completely relaxed and comfortable, while her legs are delicately touching each other.

Women in art tend to represent all the passions and desires of their creators. Despite the moral constraints, art has always found a way to express reality, and feminine sensuality and passions aren't the exceptions. Either through mythical or literary themes, these painters get away by showing female pleasure in an enticing way that invites us to fulfill our most human desires.

Maria Isabel Carrasco

Maria Isabel Carrasco