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Related: definition - description - point of view - picture - portrait - representation - visual arts
See also: depiction of women in advertising
-- American Heritage Dictionary
- To represent in a picture or sculpture.
- To represent in words; describe.
Depiction of Women in Advertising [...]
Women are not only portrayed in decorative senses in advertising (Wiles 1991), but too often they are portrayed as less-than-human objects—humiliated and subjects of violence. These ads establish the problematic dimensions of gender and sexuality in western society. Quite simply, for those who deny the problem, have a look at these ads. None of these are harmless! -- Dr. Scott A. Lukas, http://www.ltcconline.net/lukas/gender/pages/dehumanize.htm http://www.genderads.com/gender.htm [May 2004]
History of erotic depictions
Related: erotic art - pornography - erotica
Erotic depictions of sexual acts are as old as civilization. Erotic depictions include paintings, sculptures, photographs, music and writings that show scenes of a sexual nature. Though pornography is included, the concept of pornography as understood today did not exist until the Victorian era. Its current definition was added in the 1860s, replacing the older one meaning writings about prostitutes. It first appeared in an English medical dictionary in 1857 defined as "A description of prostitutes or of prostitution, as a matter of public hygiene." Within 5 years though, the second, obscene definition appeared in Webster's Dictionary. "Licentious painting or literature; especially, the painting anciently employed to decorate the walls of rooms devoted to bacchanalian orgies." Previous to that time, though some sex acts were regulated or stipulated in laws, looking at objects or images depicting them was not. In some cases, certain books, engravings or image collections were outlawed, but the trend to compose laws that restricted viewing of sexually explicit things in general was a Victorian construct.
When large scale excavations of Pompeii were undertaken in the 1860s, much of the erotic art of the Romans came to light, shocking the Victorians who saw themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Roman Empire. They did not know what to do with the frank depictions of sexuality, and endeavored to hide them away from everyone but upper class scholars. The movable objects were locked away in the Secret Museum in Naples, Italy and what couldn't be removed was covered and cordoned off as to not corrupt the sensibilities of women, children and the working class. Soon after, England's and the world's first laws criminalizing pornography was enacted in the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. The Victorian attitude that pornography was for a select few can be seen in the wording of the Hicklin test stemming from a court case in 1868 where it asks, "whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences." Despite their repression, depictions of erotic imagery are common throughout history, and remain so.
Among the oldest surviving examples of erotic depictions are Paleolithic cave paintings and carvings. Among the more common images of animals and hunting scenes, depictions of human genitalia, thought to be fertility symbols, may be found. Nude human beings with exaggerated sexual characteristics are depicted in some Paleolithic paintings and artifacts (e.g. Venus figurines). Recently discovered cave art at Creswell Crags in England, thought to be over 12,000 years old, includes some symbols thought to be stylized versions of female genitalia. However there is no indication that these were made for erotic stimulation, it is far more likely that these were objects used in religious rituals.
Archaeologists in Germany reported in April 2005 that they had found what they believe is a 7,200-year-old scene depicting a male figurine bending over a female figurine in a manner suggestive of sexual intercourse. The male figure has been named Adonis von Zschernitz. However, it is not certain that the purpose of these artifacts was individual sexual arousal. Instead, the images may have had a spiritual significance, and are probably connected with fertility rituals.
The ancient Greeks painted sexual scenes on their ceramics, many of them famous for being some of the earliest depictions of same-sex relations and pederasty.
There are numerous sexually explicit paintings on the walls of ruined Roman buildings in Pompeii but the original purposes of the depictions can vary. On the one hand, in the "Villa of the Mysteries", there is a ritual flagellation scene that is clearly associated with a religious cult. This can be seen as religious rather than sexual. On the other hand graphic paintings in a brothel advertise various sexual services in murals above each door. In Pompeii phalli and testicles engraved in the sidewalks were created to aid visitors in finding their way by pointing to the prostitution and entertainment district. The Romans considered such depictions of sex to be decoration in good taste, and indeed the pictures reflect the sexual mores and practices of their culture. Sex acts that were considered taboo (such as those that defiled the purity of the mouth) were depicted in baths for comic effect. Phalluses were used near entryways for the phallus was seen as a good luck charm, and the carvings were common in every home. One of the first objects excavated was a marble statue showing the god Pan having sex with a goat, a detailed depiction of bestiality considered so obscene that it is not on public display to this day and remains in the Secret Museum.
The Moche of Peru are another ancient people that sculpted explicit scenes of sex into their pottery. Their purpose however, was much different that that of other early cultures. The Moche believed that the world of the dead was the exact opposite of the world of the living. Therefore, for funeral offerings, they sent vessels showing sex acts such as masturbation, fellatio and anal sex that would not result in offspring. The hope was that in the world of the dead, they would take on their opposite meaning and result in fertility.
There has been a long tradition of erotic painting in the east. In Japan, shunga appeared in the 13th century and continued to grow in popularity until the 19th century when photography was invented. Similarly, the erotic art of China reached its peak during the latter part of the Ming Dynasty.
Erotic scenes in medieval illuminated manuscripts were a common occurrence meant only for those who could afford the extremely expensive hand made books. Most of these drawings occur in the margins of books of hours. Some think that the pictures satisfied the medieval cravings for both erotic pictures and religion in one book, especially since it was often the only book someone owned. Others think the drawings in the margins were a kind of caution, but the depiction of priests and other officials engaged in sex acts in them suggests political origins as well.
It was not until the invention of the printing press that sexually explicit images entered into mass circulation. Before that time, erotic images being hand made and expensive and were limited to upper class males who deliberately kept them away from the working class, fearing the effect such things would have on the animal lust of the uneducated. Even the British Museum had a Secretum filled a collection of ancient erotica donated by the upper class doctor, George Witt in 1865. The remains of the collection, including his scrapbooks, still reside in Cupboard 55, thought the majority of it has recently been integrated with the museum's other collections. All of this was done to prevent the corruption of women, children and most importantly, the lower classes as they were considered morally unfit to view such things.
The first example of printed erotic material caused a scandal in the sixteenth century when Pietro Aretino and Marcantonio Raimondi, produced the I Modi in 1524, an illustrated book of 16 "postures" or sexual positions. Raimondi had actually published the I Modi once before, and was subsequently imprisoned by the Pope Clement VII and all copies of the illustrations were destroyed. Raimondi based the engravings on a series of erotic paintings that Giulio Romano was doing as a commission for the Palazzo del Te in Mantua. Though the two were very similar, Raimondi was prosecuted because his engravings were capable of being seen by the public. Romano didn't know of the engravings until Aretino came to see the original paintings while Romano was still working on them. He then composed 16 explicit sonnets ("both in your pussy and your behind, my cock will make me happy, and you happy and blissful") to go with the paintings and secured Raimondi's release from prison. The I Modi was then published again with the poems and the pictures the first time erotic text and images were combined, though the papacy once more seized all the copies it could find. Raimondi escaped prison that time, but for nearly 400 years, whispers of this text circulated. The censorship was so complete that no original copies have ever been found.
In the 17th century, a large number of examples of pornographic or erotic literature began to circulate, mostly printed in Amsterdam, and smuggled into various European states. These included L'Ecole des Filles a French work printed in 1655 that is considered to be the beginning of pornography in France. It consists of an illustrated dialogue between two women, a 16 year old and her more worldly cousin and their explicit discussions about sex. The author remains anonymous to this day, though a few suspected authors served light prison sentences for the work. In his famous diary, Samuel Pepys records purchasing a copy for solitary reading, and then burning it so that it would not be discovered by his wife; "the idle roguish book, L'escholle de filles; which I have bought in plain binding...because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it."
During the Enlightenment, many of the French free-thinkers began to exploit pornography as a medium of social criticism and satire. Libertine pornography was a subversive social commentary and often targeted the Catholic church and the general attitudes of sexual repression. The market for the mass produced, inexpensive pamphlets soon became the bourgeoisie, making the upper class worry, as in England, that the morals of the lower class would be corrupted especially the women and slaves seen as vulnerable and weak at that time. The stories and illustrations (sold in the galleries of the Palais Royal, along with services of prostitutes) were often anti-clerical, full of misbehaving priests, monks, and nuns, a tradition that, in French pornography, continued into the twentieth century. In the period leading up to the French Revolution, pornography was also used a political commentary and Marie Antoinette was targeted, with fantasies involving her and the Ladies in Waiting while much was made of the supposed sexual inadequacies of Louis XVI. During and after revolution, the famous works of the Marquis de Sade were printed. They were often accompanied by illustrations and served as political commentary for their author.
The English answer to this was Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (later abridged and renamed Fanny Hill) written in 1748 by John Cleland. While the text satirised the literary conventions and fashionable manners of 18th century England, it was more scandalous for depicting a woman, the narrator, enjoying and even reveling in sexual acts with no dire consequences. The text is hardly explicit as Cleland wrote the entire book using euphemisms for sex acts and body parts, employing 50 different ones just for the term penis. Two small earthquakes were credited to the book by the Bishop of London and Cleland was arrested and briefly imprisoned, but Fanny Hill continued on and is one of the most reprinted books in the English language. However, it was not legal to own this book in the United States until 1963 and in the United Kingdom until 1970.
In 1839, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre presented the first practical process of photography to the French Academy of Sciences. Unlike earlier photographs, his daguerreotypes had stunning quality and detail and did not fade with time. The new technology did not go unnoticed by artists eager for new ways to depict the undraped feminine form. Traditionally, an académie was a nude study done by a painter to master the female (or male) form. Each to be registered with the French government and approved or they could not be sold. Soon, nude photographs were being registered as académie and marketed as aids to painters. However, the realism of a photograph as opposed to the idealism of a painting made many of them intrinsically erotic. In Nude photography, 1840–1920, Peter Marshall notes: "In the prevailing moral climate at the time of the invention of photography, the only officially sanctioned photography of the body was for the production of artist's studies. Many of the surviving examples of daguerreotypes are clearly not in this genre but have a sensuality that clearly implies they were designed as erotic or pornographic images."
The daguerreotypes were not without drawbacks, however. The main difficulty was that they could only be reproduced by photographing the original picture since each image was an original and the all metal process does not use negatives. In addition, the earliest daguerreotypes had exposure times ranging from three to fifteen minutes, making them somewhat impractical for portraiture. Unlike earlier drawings, action could not be shown. The poses that the models struck had to be held very still for a long time. Because of this, the standard pornographic image shifted from one of two or more people engaged in sex acts to a solitary woman exposing her genitals. Since one picture could cost a week's salary, the audience for these nudes mostly consisted of artists and the upper echelon of society. It was cheaper to hire a prostitute and experience the sex acts than it was to own a picture of them in the 1840s. The next advance, stereoscopy, was invented in 1838 and became extremely popular, including the erotic type. This allowed a type of three dimensional viewing that suited erotic images quite well. While thousands of erotic daguerreotypes were created, only around 800 are known to survive but their uniqueness and expense meant that they were rich men's toys in their time. Today, due to their rarity the can sell for 10,000 GBP or more.
In 1841, William Fox Talbot patented the calotype process, the first negative-positive process, making possible multiple copies. This invention permitted an almost limitless number of prints to be produced from a glass negative. Also, the reduction in exposure time made a true mass market for pornographic pictures possible. The technology was immediately employed to reproduce nude portraits. Paris soon became the centre for this trade. In 1848 only 13 photography studios existed in Paris, but by 1860 there were over 400. Nearly all of them profited by selling illicit pornography to the masses who could now afford it. The pictures were also sold near train stations, by traveling salesman and even by women in the streets who had them secreted away under their dresses. They were often produced in sets (of 4, 8 or 12), and exported all over the world, though mainly to England and the United States. Both the models and the photographers were commonly from the working class, and the artistic excuse was lost. By 1855, no more photographic nudes were being registered as académie, and the business had gone underground to escape prosecution.
The Victorian pornographic tradition in Britain had three main elements. There were, of course, French photographs; erotic prints (sold in shops in Holywell Street, a long vanished London thoroughfare, swept away by the Aldwych); and printed literature. The ability to mass reproduce photographs saw the rise of a new individual, the porn dealer. Many of these dealers took advantage of the postal system to send out cards in plain wrappings to their subscribers. The rise of a reliable international postal system thus facilitated the beginnings of the pornography trade. Victorian pornography had a number of characteristics. It reflected a very mechanistic view of the human anatomy and its functions. Science, the new obsession, was used to ostensibly study the human body. Consequently, the sex is often depersonalised, and is without any passion or tenderness. It also became popular to depict nude photographs of women of exotic ethnicities, under the umbrella of science. Studies of this type can be found in the work of Eadweard Muybridge. though he photographed both men and women, the women were often given props like market baskets and fishing poles, making the images of women thinly disguised erotica.
In 1880, halftone printing was used to reproduce photographs for the first time. The invention of halftone printing took pornography and erotica in new directions at the turn of the century. The new printing processes allowed photographic images to be reproduced easily in black and white whereas previously printers were limited to engravings, woodcuts and line cuts for illustrations.
Illustrated magazines containing erotic or risque material began to appear in France at the turn of the century. The majority of these publications would now be termed 'soft core', and the majority of the publications either masqueraded as 'art magazines' or publications celebrating the new cult of naturism. 'Health and Efficiency' was typical of the latter in Britain. Models were carefully posed, and female genitalia was hidden or airbrushed out. There were exceptions, in the form of some underground pornographic magazines, but these tended to be crude productions, often incorporating hand drawn illustrations.
In the second half of the 20th century, pornography in the United States evolved from the so-called "men's magazines" such as Playboy and Modern Man of the 1950s. These magazines featured nude or semi-nude women, sometimes apparently engaging in the act of masturbation, although their genitals or pubic hair were not actually displayed. By the late 1960s, however, these magazines, which by then included Penthouse, began to evolve into more explicit displays, eventually, by the 1990s, featuring sexual penetration, lesbianism and homosexuality, group sex, masturbation, and fetishes.
The second important development was that of the moving image. William Laurie Dickson, an Edison employee, is credited with inventing the continuous celluloid strip of film. From this came the kinetoscope, a peep show machine showing a continuous loop of film.
The mutoscope, a form of hand cranked machine later appeared. These machines produced moving images by means of a revolving drum of card illustrations, taken from an actual piece of film. They were known in Britain as 'What the Butler Saw' machines and featured at seaside locations, showing (usually) sequences of women undressing or acting as an artist's model.
Pornographic motion pictures are nearly as old as the medium itself. The idea of projecting a moving film onto a screen in front of the audience was a European invention of the 1890s. Almost immediately, erotic films (largely of women disrobing) were produced. Two of the earliest pioneers were Eugene Pirou (who had a background in pornographic photography) and Albert Kirchner, whose trade name was 'Lear'. Oddly enough, Kirchner is chiefly remembered by film historians as the first man to produce a film of the 'Life Of Christ'. Many of the early mainstream films produced by Pathe and Gaumont included female nudity, but this was soon forbidden by the censor (it took some years for the law to catch up with the new technology). This type of filming then went underground, and found a ready market in brothels and gentlemen's private functions.
According to Patrick Robertson's Film Facts, "the earliest pornographic motion picture which can definitely be dated is A L'Ecu d'Or ou la bonne auberge", made in France in 1908; the plot depicts a weary soldier who has a tryst with an inn servant girl. The Argentine El Satario might be even older; it has been dated to somewhere between 1907 and 1912. Robertson notes that "the oldest surviving pornographic films are contained in America's Kinsey Collection. One film demonstrates how early pornographic conventions were established. The German film Am Abend (c1910) is, as Robertson writes, "a ten-minute film which begins with a woman masturbating alone in her bedroom, and progresses to scenes of her with a man performing straight sex, fellatio and anal penetration."
Many such pornographic films were made in subsequent decades, but given the usually clandestine nature of the filming and distribution, details of such "stag films" are often difficult to obtain.
The first explicitly pornographic film with a plot that received a general theatrical release in the U.S. is generally considered to be Mona (also known as Mona the Virgin Nymph), a 59-minute 1970 feature by Bill Osco and Howard Ziehm, who went on to create the relatively high-budget hardcore/softcore (depending on the release) cult film Flesh Gordon.
The 1971 film The Boys in the Sand represented a number of pornographic "firsts". It was the first generally available gay pornographic movie. It was the first porn film to include on-screen credits for its cast and crew (albeit largely under pseudonyms). It was the first porn film to parody the title of a mainstream movie (in this case, The Boys in the Band). And it is the only X-rated pornographic film to be reviewed by The New York Times.
The post-war era saw a number of developments that further stimulated the growth of a mass market.
Technological developments, particularly the introduction of the 8-mm and super-8 film gauges, resulted in the widespread use of amateur cinematography. A number of entrepreneurs emerged to supply this market. In Britain, the productions of Harrison Marks were 'soft core', but considered risque in the 1950s. On the continent, such films were more explicit. Lasse Braun can be mentioned as a pioneer in quality colour productions. Interestingly enough, in the early days, these were distributed by making use of his father's diplomatic privileges.
The relaxation or abolition of censorship in the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries in the 1960s led to an explosion of commercially produced pornography. Now that being a pornographer was a legitimate occupation, there was no shortage of businessmen to invest in proper plant and equipment capable of turning out a mass-produced, cheap, but quality product. Vast amounts of this new pornography, both magazines and films, were smuggled into other parts of Europe, where it was sold 'under the counter' or (sometimes) shown in 'members only' cinema clubs.
The invention of the Polaroid camera enabled anyone to take their own amateur sex photographs without having to set up their own darkroom. The photographs from one of the first Polaroid cameras available in Britain featured in the divorce case involving the Duchess of Argyll. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_erotic_depictions [Oct 2006]
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