The works of Pierre Louÿs (born Pierre Louis in Ghent, Belgium in 1870) have inspired many erotic artists over the years. His 1894 collection of pastiche Sapphic poems, Les Chanson des Bilitis, inspiring everyone from Debussy through Suzanne Ballivet and Paul-Emile Bécat to the photographer David Hamilton. In 1896 he published his first novel, Aphrodite—mœurs antiques ( Aphrodite -Ancient Manners ) which described the life of a courtesan, Chrysis, in ancient Alexandria and is a take on the Pygmalion story. The book was a best seller, becoming the biggest selling novel in France at the time, although it was banned in the US. These two characters, in the painting by Milo Manara, are the musicians Myrtocleia and Rhodis who are lesbian lovers.
Manara produced fifteen watercolours to illustrate the Humanoid Publishing's 1999 edition of the book. The publishers divided the novel into four parts and had different artists illustrate the different sections. Manara illustrated the first part and his pictures (unlike some of the artists that followed) closely follow incidents and descriptions in the novel. Manara (born 1945) uses a number of different styles in his erotic comic strips and illustrations but his watercolour style, as used here, is softer than his harder edged comic strip style. The picture at the top is a clever composition with the darker skinned girl dominating the centre of the painting, framed by two curtains. The fact that her face is hidden takes your eye down to the blonde girl who would otherwise have been a subsidiary element in the composition. It brings the crucial physical contact points of a tongue and three hands, into the heart of the composition.
They first appear in Chapter 6, The Virgins. "Now a light sound of footsteps palpitated upon the soil and two young girls appeared, one dressed in yellow, the other in blue." This picture illustrates the line where Rhodis (in the blue) asks Myrtocleia (in yellow) to remove the iris flowers woven around her legs. "She knelt by Rhodis and detached the two garlands, then the three flowers placed higher, putting a kiss in place of each."
This picture illustrates Rhodis (a flute players) and Myrtocleia (a singer) who have been performing at an orgy in the palace. One of the other girls had been ravished during the orgy but Myrtocleia had intervened to save Rhodis from a similar fate. The two declare that they are going to bed together. "Myrtocleia took her in her arms and both were silent together. the wind mingled their hair."
Here the two girls have encountered the heroine of the novel, Chrysis., who whisks them away. The girls tell her that in their own country of Ephesos they would be allowed to marry and even adopt children. Chrysis, "discovering on her bed the two Ephesians...she leaped between them, separating them, clasped them with a sort of amorous fury, and her long golden hair enveloped the three young heads."
Effectively sensuous stuff. More of Manara's lesbian lovers another time.