The 8 sexiest old master paintings



2015-06-26 14:05:18

The old masters painted some of the sexiest scenes in art history

We often imagine sexy paintings to be the preserve of modern art, and to a degree this is true, with the definition of indecency relaxing over time and allowing artists greater freedom to paint increasingly sexy scenes.

Yet the old masters were partial to the odd erotic image as well, and with so many great artists in action, we're presented with some of the finest depictions of the human form through their work.

Take a look at 8 of the sexiest old master paintings ever created, ahead of New York's Old Master Week at the end of the month.

Portrait of a Woman Revealing Her Breasts
c. 1570

Image: WikiArt

This painting is believed to be of one of two women, either famous Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco, or Tintoretto's own daughter, known as La Tintoretta. We hope it's the former, which would make this painting a lot less creepy.

Nonetheless, it is one of Tintoretto's most beautiful paintings, and the expensive pearl necklace suggests that the woman is in fact a courtesan, thankfully.

**Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Leda and the Swan

Image: Wikipedia

Sir Peter Paul Rubens is renowned for his raunchy paintings of curvaceous, fleshy women, which appalled many of the prudish critics of his day.

Today, his works are well loved for their sexiness and skill, and have given rise to the term "Rubenesque". Few paintings demonstrate Rubens' penchant for a portly lady so aptly as Leda and the Swan.

Leda and the Swan, created between 1601-1602, tells the myth of Leda, wife of the king of Sparta, and a sexualised swan who is actually the Greek god Zeus transformed.

The myth tells of Zeus turning into a swan in order to seduce Leda, causing her to give birth to two sets of twins, a pair of which were said to be Zeus' children, while the others were attributed to her husband, Tyndareus.

According to Lucian's The Dialogues of the Dead, Leda and Helen of Troy (her daughter) were the only two women in the world that could be called "beauties of old" and Leda's description as a full-figured, alabaster-skinned babe made her the perfect subject for Rubens.

Francisco Goya
La Maja Desnuda

Image: Wikipedia

A "maja" is a lower-class member of Spanish society, characterised by her fancy outfits and cheeky behaviour, and were popular subjects for painters of the day.

This maja has clearly forgotten her fancy outfit, yet certainly retains her cheekiness. Painted by Goya in 1797, she was likely commissioned by a rich noble to be kept in a separate cupboard reserved for the raunchiest nudes.

The 18th century equivalent of a Playboy centrefold, the painting also has an important role in the history of sexy paintings, as it is one of the earliest to depict a nude woman's pubic hair.

Until this point, the painting of pubic hair was usually reserved for prostitutes and the like, but here Goya paints what he sees without any obvious connotations.

Nonetheless, pubic hair would go on to repulse art conoisseurs for decades to come, with Pre-Raphaelite prude John Ruskin famously disgusted by his wife Effie Gray's short and curlies after his only experiences of naked women came from viewing classical art.

**Diego Velazquez
The Rokeby Venus

Image: Wikipedia

A famously sexy painting, Diego Velazquez could have got himself into hot water with the Spanish Inquisition, who actively policed artworks of the day to ensure against such profanity.

However, Velazquez was in the favour of the court and got away with it just this once. This is the only surviving nude by the artist, and one of his most famous.

The work was famously attacked by suffragist Mary Richardson in London in 1914, who commented at the time: "I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst."

However noble Richardson's intentions, there is no need to destroy a beautiful work of art, and it was an ineffective protest by all accounts. The piece was restored back to its former glory within months, retaking its place as a highlight of London's National Gallery.

Antonio Allegri da Correggio
Jupiter and Io
c. 1530

Image: Wikipedia

It's that lecherous Zeus again up to his old tricks, this time seducing Io, daughter of Inachus, the first king of Argos.

Called Jupiter in this Roman interpretation of the Greek myth, Zeus is again tempted by an Earthly woman and hides behind dunes to avoid his jealous wife, Juno, from catching him.

Seizing his moment, he takes the form of a cloud to take the young Io, who is only too pleased to welcome the god into her arms, pulling him closer in ecstasy.

It is a remarkably daring piece, but not surprising from Correggio, who painted some of the most sensual works of his day. It is thought to have been commissioned by the Duke of Mantua to place in a room full of paintings of the many loves of Jupiter.

**Gabrielle d'Estrees and one of her sisters
C. 1594

Image: Wikipedia

No one knows the artist behind this nipple-tweaking artwork, which depicts one of the mistresses of King Henry IV of France sitting in the bath holding Henry's coronation ring, while her sister pinches her nipples.

Seemingly an erotic work to the modern eye, the painting actually announces Gabrielle d'Estrees' pregnancy with Henry's first child, Cesar de Bourbon, with the pinch informing the viewer exactly where milk comes from. The lady in the background is frantically sewing baby clothes.

The ring in the picture was given to Gabrielle as a token of Henry's love shortly before she died with her fourth child, highlighting her importance to king. She was said to have accompanied him, even while heavily pregnant, on several campaigns, lying in his tent at the side of the battlefield.

The Three Graces
c. 1500

Image: Wikipedia

This work is thought to have been the first time Raphael depicted a nude in front and back views, and what a fine job he did.

Though he used the Three Graces of classic mythology as his subject, it is not clear what Raphael was attempting to portray in the painting. The golden apples suggest the women could be the handmaidens of Venus, or the Hesperides, nymphs that live in an idyllic garden in which Hercules is said to have gone scrumping.

Sandro Botticelli
Mars and Venus

Image: Wikipedia

One of the sexiest paintings ever created, Sandro Botticelli's Mars and Venus is thought to have been painted as part of the headboard of a wealthy Renaissance player's bed.

It shows the post-coital couple as an allegory of beauty and valour, with the joyful satyrs stealing Mars' lance, a little joke that the god of war has been disarmed by Venus' vigour. Another satyr blows a conch in Mars' ear, but is unable to wake him.

In other words, Mars is a typical man and has fallen straight asleep after the act. Just look at the slightly peeved expression on Venus' face.

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2015-06-26 14:05:18

That poor swan.

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