Lesbianism and Queer Feamales In Art History: Where Will They Be?

Two Nudes within the Forest (the planet earth it self) (1939), Frida Kahlo

Reader matter: ‘I’m wondering about lesbian art, in other words. art depicting lesbian fans. What exactly are a few of the earliest types of this? The main reason I’m asking is because we all know a lot about homosexuality between males several years ago, and I also have also heard some individuals state that homosexuality between females is really a “modern phenomenon”.’

This is certainly a topic that is important me. That’s because we, the art historian behind this website, are already a woman that is queer. (not really a shocker that is big whoever understands me personally.)

Which means I’m always looking for representations of relationships and identities like personal in art, news and pop music tradition. But while art history is filled up with opposite-sex love tales, think about lesbian along with other female that is queer in art? Could it be even here after all?

The solution is: yes, needless to say it really is. This is definitely not the case although you may have heard people say that lesbianism is a “modern phenomenon.

Nevertheless, it is true our present some ideas of intimate orientation are a contemporary (and Western) event. So, me start with a very brief explanation of the history of queer female identity as a whole before I go into lesbianism in art history, let.

Before 18 th – 19 th century Europe, types of “homosexual”, “heterosexual” and “bisexual” didn’t occur – at the very least maybe maybe maybe not with those names. Within the 18 th and 19 th hundreds of years, ereallyone was very thinking about “deviant” sexualities: the sex of kiddies, crooks, and, needless to say, those that had been thinking about exactly the same intercourse. (see Michel Foucault’s the annals of Sexuality Vol. 1, 1976, to learn more.) There is a desire that is increasing categorize and label these sexualities. The initial instance that is known of word “homosexual” getting used ended up being consequently perhaps perhaps not until 1868, in Germany. Bisexuality, meanwhile, wasn’t used to “attraction to men and women” until ca. 1892.

Nonetheless, even though words “homosexual”/”heterosexual”/”bisexual” didn’t exist until this time around, labels for various intimate orientations have actually existed, across countries, for hundreds of 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 India: Readings from Literature and History, argue contrary to the proven fact that sex labels originated from the western. They list the many terms which have existed throughout Indian history to designate individuals who have occasional and sometimes even lifelong choices when it comes to exact same intercourse. Even yet in the western, terms like “tribade” or “sapphist” (both referring to females) had been being used well before the 18 th century.

Ladies who have intercourse and/or intimate relationships along with other ladies have constantly existed, simply in various social contexts. What I’m shopping for in this essay, consequently, is in fact representations of females who may have had intimate and/or intimate relationships with other females.

I’ve divided these depictions into four split themes: Lesbianism as Erotica, Lesbianism as Anthropological research, Ambiguous Lesbianism, and Self-representation.

Disclaimer: I prefer the word that is“queer than “lesbian” in the most common with this article. It is because “queer” functions as an umbrella term for just about any individual within the community that is LGBTQ+ and lets me consist of all female-presenting those who could be any such thing apart from heterosexual. I take advantage of the phrase “lesbianism” to suggest activity that is“sexual women”, to not describe the identification of those included.

I’d also choose to provide a basic content warning for functions of homophobia and, in a single case, intimate attack which can be talked about when you look at the post.

Lesbianism as Erotica (NSFW)

This can be probably the most typical kind of depiction of lesbianism in all of art history. DEFINITELY. And like numerous types of lesbian erotica today, many art historic lesbian erotica ended up being produced by (and likely made for) males. This leads us up to a big problem when learning feminine homoeroticism: throughout the majority of history, and across many countries, ladies have now been second-class residents. They’ve seldom been the music artists or perhaps the main customers of art. Which means we have really idea that is little of the experiences and emotions of females really had been. Nearly all of that which we have with regards to queer feminine representation are men’s ideas of exactly what feminine sex looks like.

That does not signify these representations aren’t helpful. They offer us good quality some ideas of just what feminine same-sex experiences had been like and just how these people were seen by society.

Decoration on a vessel that is ceramicc. 515 – 495 B.C.E.), Apollodoros. Image from Art and Homosexuality: a brief history of some ideas, pp. 18

One of many earliest types of lesbian erotica can be an ancient greek vessel that is ceramic c. 515 – 495 B.C.E. It shows two women that are naked one standing plus one kneeling at the other and manually stimulating her genitals.

Much has needless to say been manufactured from the acceptance of male behaviour that is homosexual ancient Greece, but there’s strikingly small information on 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 guys) and “the penetrated” (including non-citizens such as for instance slaves, young men and, needless to say, females). Lesbianism demonstrably doesn’t squeeze into this paradigm.

Overall, the attitudes on ladies who had sex with ladies are not yet determined. Plato, in the Symposium, presents ladies who have actually sex/relationships along with other females being a category that is separate therefore we realize that it did occur. Nonetheless, considering exactly how rights that are few had all together in ancient Greece it appears that lesbianism ended up being generally speaking frowned upon. While you can find a huge selection of vases representing male homoeroticism, just two – such as the one above – have already been unearthed 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 providing us representations of strap-ons and dildos. You might understand Katsushika Hokusai by their woodblock printing the fantastic Wave off Kanagawa (1820s); nevertheless, he had been additionally usually made erotic shunga images. One of these brilliant, from their 1814 shunga guide series Kinoe no komatsu (Young pine saplings) shows a same-sex female couple participating in sexual intercourse utilizing a double-ended harigata (dildo).

Image from Fumi no Kiyogaki ( different types of Calligraphy) (1801), Chokyosai Eiri (Pictures from History / Bridgeman photos)

Thirteen years early in the day, in 1801, Japanese printing artist Chokyosai Eiri depicted a same-sex feminine few utilizing a strap-on. This kind of strap-on vibrator had been meant to be utilised by ladies either together or alone (in the event that girl ended up being alone, she’d put it to use by tying it to her ankle). In Eiri’s work, one of many females normally keeping a container having a cream inside – some form of lubricant – and she’s saying (based on the terms written regarding the work close to her), ‘Seeing as we’re likely to do so similar to this, I’ll put many of the cream about it. Therefore really make yourself come. This big one could perhaps not get in. minus the cream’

In Ming dynasty Asia (1550 – 1650), erotic art ended up being elegant and beautifully produced. Erotic pictures had been painted on silk and collected into handbooks. Most of them depicted lesbianism, drawing in the intimate relationships recorded among feamales in palace harems.

The below scene, painted on silk, originates from a 1640 record album and depicts two ladies utilizing an ivory dildo that is double-ended. Chinese erotic scenes had been frequently occur gardens such as this one, associating the intercourse aided by the religious connection between nature while the body. (I unfortuitously could maybe maybe perhaps not find any reproduction that is good of an added than the blurry one you notice under.)

Two females having sex (c. 1640), unknown musician. Image from images and Passions: a brief history of Homosexuality into the Visual Arts, pp. 137

Most likely asiandate my representation that is favourite of vibrator originates from Mughal Asia. It could be present in a 17 th century Persian translation of an Indian intercourse manual, the Ratirahasya or 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. 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 past History of Homosexuality in Visual Arts, pp. 126

The above mentioned image had been an example of a scene when the bow and arrow had been metaphorically – not literally – supposed to do something being an allegory for a lady position that is same-sex a vibrator.