Two Nudes into the Forest (the planet earth it self) (1939), Frida Kahlo
Reader Question: ‘I’m wondering about lesbian art, for example. art depicting lovers that are lesbian. Exactly what are a few of the earliest samples of this? The main reason I’m asking is because we all know a lot about homosexuality between men several years ago, and I also have actually even heard some individuals state that homosexuality between females is just a “modern phenomenon”.’
This can be a crucial topic for me. That’s because we, the art historian behind this web site, are already a queer woman. (not really a big shocker to anybody who understands me personally.)
This means I’m always in search of representations of relationships and identities like my personal in art, media and pop music tradition. But while art history is full of opposite-sex love tales, think about lesbian along with other female that is queer in art? Will it be also here at all?
The solution is: yes, needless to say it really is. While you might have heard individuals state that lesbianism is a “modern phenomenon”, this is certainly not at all the scenario.
Nonetheless, it’s true which our present some ideas of intimate orientation are a contemporary (and Western) event. So, before we get into lesbianism in art history, I want to begin with a tremendously brief description associated with the reputation for queer feminine identity all together.
Before 18 th – 19 th century Europe, kinds of “homosexual”, “heterosexual” and “bisexual” didn’t occur – at least maybe not with those names. Those who were interested in the same sex in the 18 th and 19 th centuries, people were very interested in “deviant” sexualities: the sexuality of children, criminals, and, of course. (see Michel Foucault’s the annals of Sexuality Vol. 1, 1976, to learn more.) There clearly was an escalating aspire to categorize and label these sexualities. The first known example for the word “homosexual” getting used had been consequently perhaps not until 1868, in Germany. Bisexuality, meanwhile, wasn’t utilized to “attraction to men and women” until ca. 1892.
Nevertheless, even though the words “homosexual”/”heterosexual”/”bisexual” didn’t occur until this time, labels for various intimate orientations have actually existed, across countries, for years and years. 19 th century European social groups didn’t exactly appear from nowhere. Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, inside their guide sex that is same in Asia: Readings from Literature and History, argue from the proven fact that sex labels originated from the western. They list the numerous terms which have existed throughout Indian history to designate those who have occasional and on occasion even lifelong choices when it comes to sex that is same. Even yet in the western, terms like “tribade” or “sapphist” (both talking about ladies) had been being used well before the 18 century that is th.
Ladies who have sexual intercourse and/or intimate relationships along with other women have constantly existed, simply in numerous contexts that are social. What I’m to locate in this specific article, consequently, is definitely representations of females who may have had intimate and/or relationships that are romantic other females.
I’ve divided these depictions into four separate themes: Lesbianism as Erotica, Lesbianism as Anthropological research, Ambiguous Lesbianism, and Self-representation.
Disclaimer: i take advantage of the word “queer” rather than “lesbian” in the most common with this article. Simply because “queer” functions as an umbrella term for almost any individual in the LGBTQ+ community, and lets me consist of all female-presenting those who could be any such thing except that heterosexual. I personally use the term “lesbianism” to suggest “sexual task between women”, to not ever explain the identification for the individuals included.
I’d also choose to offer a content that is general for functions of homophobia and, in a single instance, intimate attack which can be talked about within the post.
Lesbianism as Erotica (NSFW)
This will be the most common style of depiction of lesbianism in every of art history. UNDOUBTEDLY. And like numerous types of lesbian erotica today, art that is most historic lesbian erotica ended up being produced by (and likely made for) guys. This leads us to a problem that is huge studying feminine homoeroticism: throughout nearly all of history, and across numerous countries, females have now been second-class residents. They will have hardly ever been the designers or the main customers of art. Which means that we have really small concept of exactly what the experiences and feelings of females really had been. Nearly all of everything we have actually when it comes to queer feminine representation are men’s ideas of exactly exactly what sexuality that is female like.
That does not signify these representations aren’t helpful. They provide us good quality a few ideas of exactly just exactly what feminine same-sex experiences had been like and just how these people were viewed by culture.
Decoration on a ceramic vessel (c. 515 – 495 B.C.E.), Apollodoros. Image from Art and Homosexuality: a past history of a few ideas, pp. 18
One of many earliest types of lesbian erotica can be an ancient greek language ceramic vessel from c. 515 – 495 B.C.E. It shows two nude ladies, one standing and one kneeling as you’re watching other and manually stimulating her genitals.
Much has needless to say been manufactured from the acceptance of male homosexual behavior in ancient Greece, but there’s strikingly small details about feminine same-sex relations. As opposed to produce divisions between individuals such as for instance “homosexual” and “heterosexual”, the greeks that are ancient divided them up into “the penetrator” (a category reserved for residents, a.k.a. Greek adult males) and “the penetrated” (including non-citizens such as for example slaves, young guys and, needless to say, females). Lesbianism demonstrably does not squeeze into this paradigm.
Overall, the attitudes on ladies who had intercourse with women can be not yet determined. Plato, inside the Symposium, introduces ladies who have actually sex/relationships along with other ladies as a split category, therefore we realize that it did happen. Nevertheless, considering exactly exactly just how few legal rights females had all together in ancient Greece it would appear that lesbianism ended up being generally speaking frowned upon. While you will find a huge selection of vases representing male homoeroticism, just two – such as the one above – have now been discovered that express feminine homoeroticism.
Sex Toys and Dildos
Image from Kinoe no komatsu (Young Pine Saplings) (1814) , Katsushika Hokusai
Japanese shunga (erotic art) is very fabled for offering us representations of strap-ons and dildos. You might understand Katsushika Hokusai by their woodblock printing the fantastic Wave off Kanagawa (1820s); but, he had been also usually made erotic shunga images. One of these simple, from his 1814 shunga guide series Kinoe no komatsu (Young pine saplings) shows a same-sex female couple doing sex making use of a double-ended harigata (dildo).
Image from Fumi no Kiyogaki ( versions of Calligraphy) (1801), Chokyosai Eiri (Pictures from History / Bridgeman Images)
Thirteen years previously, in 1801, Japanese printing musician Chokyosai Eiri depicted a same-sex feminine few using a strap-on. This sort of strap-on vibrator ended up being meant to be utilised by females either together or alone (in the event that girl had been alone, she would make use of it by tying it to her ankle). In Eiri’s work, one of several ladies can be keeping a container having a cream inside – some form of lubricant – and she’s saying (based on the expressed terms written in the work close to her), ‘Seeing as we’re planning to do so similar to this, I’ll put most of the cream upon it. Therefore actually make yourself come. With no cream this big you might perhaps not go in.’
In Ming dynasty Asia (1550 – 1650), erotic art had been elegant and beautifully produced. Erotic pictures had been painted on silk and collected into handbooks. Most of them depicted lesbianism, drawing regarding the relationships that are intimate among feamales in palace harems.
The below scene, painted on silk, comes from a 1640 record album and depicts two females utilizing an ivory double-ended dildo. Chinese erotic scenes had been usually emerge gardens such as this one, associating the sex utilizing the spiritual connection between nature together with body that is human. (we unfortuitously could perhaps maybe not find any good reproduction of the an added compared to the blurry one you see under.)
Two ladies having sex (c. 1640), unknown musician. Image from images and Passions: a past history of Homosexuality into the Visual Arts, pp. 137
Most likely my representation that is favourite of vibrator arises from Mughal Asia. It may be present in a 17 th century Persian translation of an sex that is indian, the Ratirahasya or perhaps the Koka Shastra (translated into English as “Secrets of Love”). The Ratirahasya was written for medieval Indian society unlike the Kamasutra, which was a more ancient Hindu text asiandate. The handbook was fantastically sex positive when it came to same-sex representations like the Kamasutra.
Lesbian allegory (seventeenth century), unknown Persian miniaturist. Image from images and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in Visual Arts, pp. 126
The aforementioned image had been an example of the scene where the bow and arrow had been metaphorically – not literally – supposed to act as an allegory for a lady same-sex place utilizing a vibrator.