Friday, November 20, 2015

Ancient Orgy 4: Two Bacchanalian scenes by Auguste Levêque

We have featured a couple of paintings by Belgian artist Auguste Levêque before, here and here.  He had two attempts at an orgy scene, although they were both christened Bacchanalian scenes.  It is unlikely that orgies were common in Ancient Rome as Roman sexual morals ran contrary to the concept.  However they are mentioned occasionally and it seems likely that group sex did happen sometimes: Amongst Roman citizens and prostitutes in brothels, on rare occasions under certain Emperors and as part of religious festivals such as the Bacchanalia, the festivals of Bacchus the Roman God of Wine, intoxication freedom and ecstasy.  The cult of Bacchus came to Rome from Greeks in Southern Italy, based on their own festivals of .Dionysus.  Bacchanalian festivals arrived in Rome about 200BC and were later described in lurid terms by Livy who was, though, writing 200 years later.  Certainly the Roman authorities did crack down on Bacchanalian gatherings and limited the number of people who could participate at one time.  Originally, it seems, this was a female cult and there was a suggestion that, even after men started to particpate, women outnumbered men at these events by two to one.  Certainly, this painting by Levêque features far more sumptuous ladies than men and everyone seem to be having a lovely time!

The second of Levêque's Bacchanalian scenes features rather more embracing couples than the first, several fully fleeced ladies and even some mixed race action.  Although we haven't been able to find out exact dates for these paintings they are both likely to date from 1890-1910 so are quite racy for the period.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ancient Orgy 3: Romains de la décadence (1847) by Thomas Couture

Here we have a nineteenth century interpretation of a Roman orgy by the French painter Thomas Couture (1815-1879).  A largely historical painter who trained in Paris, this painting is very much his greatest work.  It is a vast painting, some 4.7 by 7.7 meters and now hangs in the Musée d'Orsay, although for the previous hundred years it was in the Louvre.

The Roman decadence depicted, while being first displayed alongside a quote from Juvenal: "Crueller than war, vice fell upon Rome and avenged the conquered world", is actually more a comment on what he saw as the moral decadence in France at the time, under the July Monarchy of Louis-Phillipe I, which was eventually ended by the Revolution of 1848.

Couture had an uncomfortable relationship with the artistic elite in Paris and espoused his particular teaching methods from his own atelier.  His pupils included, Chavannes, Fantin-Latour and Degas.

This painting very much followed the classical tradition of men being dressed and the ladies largely naked and includes the inevitable, unconscious, post bacchanalian figure.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ancient orgy 2: Roman Orgy by Wilhelm Kotarbinski

Roman Orgy (c.1872-1887))

This splendid Alma-Tademaesque painting of a Roman orgy is by the Warsaw born artist usually known as Vasily Alexandrovich Kotarbinsky but, more properly, Wilhelm Kotarbinski (1849-1921).   Kotarbinski's father was dead against him pursuing a career as an artist but after studying in Warsaw he borrowed some money from his uncle and moved to Rome to study there.  After three years in Rome he finished his studies in St Petersburg but returned to Rome where he stayed until 1887 before settling in Kiev for the rest of his career.  Rome influenced his choice of subject and he produced a number of classical and mythical subjects, of which this is the most monumental (it measures 65 by 87 inches).  Later on, his work was looser and closer in style to that of the symbolists.   In Kiev he undertook a number of important murals, including in the city's cathedral.  He always considered himself Polish and not Russian or Ukrainian and once refused to sign a picture in Cyrillic script as a result.

This picture dates from his time in Rome but although it is dated the date is too indistinct to be made out.  He made a later copy in 1893 now in the State Russian Museum.  It's rather a chaste orgy with a little kissing and some half dressed young ladies but the execution is sumptuous.  Sadly, Kotarbinski died in poverty in Kiev while planning to return to Warsaw.