“Sleeping Venus” by Giorgione, ca. 1510.

What is erotic beauty and why does it attract me so? Each day I seem to need some sustenance in this area. The loveliness of the world around me, the sensuality of life, are intoxicating. Feminine beauty is so alluring, so stunning and inspirational. And of course there is more than simply feminine and erotic beauty, there is the beauty of nature, of the early morning dew, the sunrise, the chorus of birds awakening at dawn, the hymn of cicadas at dusk. The world, as cruel as it may seem sometimes, is still filled with many types and kinds of beauty. When life seems dark and filled with despair, the simple presence of a small bit of beauty helps to lighten such moments. Seeing a beautiful woman can help to infuse some joy into a man’s heart.

The painting above is from the Renaissance artist Giorgione, Sleeping Venus, ca. 1510.  This is the first full nude painting of a woman in Western art. I am sure at the time it caused quite a scandal, and was perhaps even considered “porn” by many. I am sure today it would still perhaps elicit some disdain from certain quarters. Michele Bachmann would probably like to have it burned.

As a nude, it is inherently erotic. Her body is, strangely enough, more natural seeming than many of the nude models we see today. This is the actual body type of most women, as opposed to the anorexic stick figures so common in today’s photography. Giorgione imbues it with a deep sensuality, Venus’s sleep evokes the languorous sweetness of sex, especially those soft moments after the fury of passion has passed, and the body is spent from consummating desire. Sleep is often part of the act of love that is neglected and the embrace of two lovers lost in sleep after their love making can be as deep a bond as the passion of sex itself.  Her hand covering her mons Veneris lets us know explicitly that this painting conveys eroticism. Her soft, sensuous curves are quite attractive, even enticing. Eroticism stirs our desires.

What is often nice about erotic art is how the artist will meld many different images in one frame. Not only might we see the human figures in some sort of erotic context, but they are often surrounded by a natural beauty as well, the landscape, the overall scenery, a shadowy and mysterious world which adds a richness to the visual experience that is often lacking in baser forms of porn. At least for me, sensuality and eroticism are complete experiences and should be portrayed as such. Without some sort of background, without some sort of storyline to frame a work, the depiction of sex in different artistic genres risks losing a deeper sensuality that is often needed to enrich the erotic experience. As in real life, when seduction is flamed by the excitement of not knowing what the future holds, by the hint of what might happen in the future but what then again might not, or by not knowing but fully wondering what another person is like, and hoping discover those mysteries, the depiction of sex in artistic ways should capture something of the mystery and excitement of desired passion.  The cloud of unknowing needs to be part of the erotic experience.

Now, having shown a famous painting by a famous artist, an explicitly erotic painting, the question I ask is this: is this photo erotic, or is it porn?

A sleeping nude, as in Giorgione’s painting. Yet many would consider this porn.

I offer no answer, except my opinion. To me this photo, although a complete nude, tends more towards the artistic side than the porn side. Why? It is not too explicit, rather, it simply conveys the natural beauty of a woman, and does so in an erotic framework. There is a certain mystery and longing conveyed. There is a rich blend of colors in the background, as in the painting above, and the overall tone is one of softness and sensuality. It is the power of female sexuality, the same power symbolized by Venus, the Roman goddess of love, as depicted by Giorgione. Both figure are sleeping, both convey desire and sensuality, and yet one will get you fired from work if found on your computer. The other, if you owned it, would make you a millionaire. We live in a sexually schizophrenic society.

To me both are images of beauty, artistic, and worthy of the visual pleasure they provide. They are part of the overall beauty of life, the things we need to raise our base, everyday existence to levels beyond ourselves, to touch something of the mystery of erotic desires, the mystery we all naturally feel as sentient, sexual beings.