The Count and The Widow
INDEX TO THIS PAGE
What is it about a young widow that makes the mere thought of her such a turn-on for the average red-blooded male? The question comes up in my projected Anatomy of Titillation and is discussed in my rather more advanced-in-the-writing Guide to Erotic Art in London’s National Gallery. It happens that two of the sexiest widows in the Bible, Judith and Tamar, are well represented by saucy pictures in the National Gallery. It makes a change to be able to say so, it being scarcely possible to walk past half-a-dozen paintings without being reminded of the gaping voids left by the Stitch-up effect.
Widows start with the advantage of wearing black. Black is a sexy colour, vide black stockings and suspenders, smouldering black eyes and, as we have seen, the Little Black Dress. (Article here.) Even when they are coming at us out of newspapers and on poster hoardings urging us to buy insurance we have this sneaky feeling that someone is playing on our libido. The average widow, after all, is many decades nearer her maker than the foxy lady with the swirling cloak, revealing hemline and high heeled shoes.
I spent 1988 and 1990 researching a Contemporary History of Venice and Carol and I lived in the City for a time. One of the delights of the local newsstands were little pocket-sized comic books, known as fumetti, some of which were devoted to erotic stories illustrated in the comic manner. The illustrations were as explicit as could be, the speech bubbles filled with the language of the streets.
I bought dozens of these little fumetti erotica books.They were of interest to me for the insight they give to the attitude of the Italian male to the opposite sex, as examples of contemporary comic art that can be contrasted to that found in the Old Masters and as a means of learning to read Italian the easy way. Easy way for some of us, for others a hard way, no doubt. Like all forms of pornography they had a tendency to become addictive and, anyway, I needed to become reasonably fluent in Italian in order to read the local newspapers.
One of the stories that has stuck in my mind was about a depraved Italian Count whose life consisted of a never ending succession of aberrant sexual episodes. There comes a time when he fancies a dalliance with a young widow and so he sends his manservant out to look for one. The story, as it unfolds, is full of unconscious humour. Or may be it’s just me that finds if funny. The serious side is that it is an exemplar for a number of the forms that titillation takes.
If I tell you any more I will be spoiling it for you. You will find the first drawing here. The next drawing in the sequence will be uploaded in two days time, and so on, until the grotto’s begin to fill with Father Christmases.
As has already been said, no one under age 18 is authorised to access these pictures. Nor should anyone go there who is easily shocked by explicit sexual imagery or course language.
Drawing No. 1
As we join the Count he is relaxing after a heavy session with his blond girl friend. The pair are in a state of “Little Death” which comes after the act of love. This was how the National Gallery used to described its painting of Venus and Mars by Botticelli in its catalogue. A visit just now to the Gallery’s website shows that it has gone all PC and removed the expression.
Ian Tovey and I re-interpreted the Gallery’s painting for inclusion in the yet-to-be-published Guide to Erotic Art in the National Gallery
There is a strong similarity between Botticelli’s painting done around 1485, the fumetti drawing and our version which dates back to 2002. Which goes to show that nothing in this area of human endeavour ever changes.
The Gallery has another “Little Death” work, Samson and Delilah (which is probably not by Rubens) pictured below. In this instance they never used the expression “Little Death” in the catalogue entry. But I arsks yer: big fella din’ get that way runnin’ up the apples and pears, did ‘e?
Translation Note: My Italian is now very rusty and I may not be able to be of much assistance as we go along. “DRIINN” means “RINGGG” in English. I hope that helps.
The next drawing in the series will be uploaded on Wednesday 3rd October.
The posting introducing The Count and the Widow will be found here.
Drawing No 2
This drawing provides an example of the comic art protocol for speech bubbles which is that a zig-zaggy tail indicates a voice off - in this case from the Count’s manservant (who we shall presently meet) on the other end of the telephone. Loosely translated, he is saying (I think) “Finally I have got some nice new crumpet ready for you, Signor Visconte!” And the Count replies: “Tell me about it, then!” I hope that any fluent Italian speaker reading this will tell me if I am missing any of the naunces.
This drawing has a bearing on the thrust (if you will forgive the expression) of my main research projects which are a Guide to Erotic Art in London’s National Gallery and an Anatomy of Titillation. The erotic connotations of a young widow are more to do with titillation than the National Gallery but the semi-flaccid penis has implications across the entire field of art. Oddly enough, it is something that I am grappling with at the moment because my next Glossary Gloss will be on the “Great Panofsky” (the Glossary entry is here) and I am wondering whether, in some stuff that I have written about Panofsky in the past that I have dredged-up from my hard disk, my criticism of him and his co-author, Madam, the Great Panofsky, for totally ignoring an exceptionally well hung member on a statuette they were discussing, was entirely justified. The outcome of this argument that I am having with myself is scheduled to be my next posting.
Interesting, is it not, that the taboo against the depiction of a tumescent penis in mainstream art and media extends to the penis in its semi as well as fully erect state? Note also that, dating back to the days of early Christianity, there has been a prejudice among Roman Catholics against circumcision. The Count is clearly uncircumcised as are most Italian men whatever their place in society. In Renaissance art Christ is sometimes shown as having an intact member despite all evidence to the contrary. Michaelangelo’s David likewise. I shall discuss this aspect of art at greater length in a future posting.
Drawing No 3
The Count’s Manservant is on the phone. “I have found a widow,” he says. “She is 32 years old…pretty… from the Borghese family. And her husband passed away yesterday!” “Magnificent!” exclaims the Count.
Several things about this drawing to note:
Strictly speaking our hero is a Viscount, but I felt that “Signor Visconte”, fine in Italian, translated more comfortably as “Count”. If I have made a mistake, and if there are Italian Viscounts who are offended, I apologise to them for my error and express the hope that it does not affect their sex life.
The Italian Nobility was abolished following a referendum after the second world war, holders of titles being permitted to continue to use them as surnames. In modern day Italy it is as though this law was never passed. Around the time of Napoleon there were half-a-dozen Kingdoms and Duchies and today, in Venice alone, there are Principes and Principessas everywhere you turn and battalions of Contes and Contessas. The pecking order, unofficial though it may be, is closely regulated by the Libro d’Oro (Golden Book) which is like our Debrettes but more thumbed.
The Borgheses, from whence the widow who we will shortly meet was descended, were one of the great Italian aristocratic houses and with the creation of one of their number Pope in 1605 their fortunes soared. In the comic our Visconte is given the name “Aldobrando” which is similar to the name “Aldobrandini”. This last is said to have been part of the Borghese’s official style since 1769. Aldobrando, however, is a popular first name. Where this leaves us, I cannot say. There must have been some reason for mentioning the widow’s Borghese extraction but what it was escapes me. I, unlike you, know how the story develops and I am still none the wiser.
Now look at the Count’s girl friend’s breasts in drawing No. 3. The low viewing angle provides a less common image than can be gained from above and on that account has to be considered more titillating. Although breasts are reasonably plentiful on the walls of the National Gallery there are none to be seen of the size and shape depicted and my research throws up only a couple of examples of a low viewing angle - both, as it happens, in Veronese pictures. Above are details from these two Veronese works. Veronese could have had a mild fetish about envisaging breasts from what might be termed the ante-missionary coital position. Or, may be, he was just ahead of his time. The gaze from the lower girl in the image on the left directed upward to the other girl’s exposed (to her, not to us) crotch deserves further research. The National Gallery’s two Veronese paintings are here and here.
A sighting of the low angle syndrome from our own time can be found in a curious ruling from the Judge in the case brought by Friends star Jennifer Aniston against Man’s World Publications and the Crescent Publishing Group who produce the High Society and Celebrity Skin maqazines. Aniston had told the Court that she was distraught and devastated when the defendants published photographs of her sitting in her back yard wearing nothing but panties. The pictures had been taken by a paparazzi who climbed over a wall. The judge ordered her to produce evidence of each time she had appeared partially nude in print or on film, including all images “that depict the undersides or sides of her breasts”. The quotation marks are those of the Daily Mail whose report of the proceeding appeared along side a picture of Aniston wearing a low cut dress; a very low cut dress but, nevertheless, not the same thing.
For most writers on erotic art it is a given that men have had a breast fixation since the dawn of civilisation but I am not at all convinced that this is so. Of course, by the time this fumetti drawing came to be done, breasts were in Big Time, and had been from the ‘Forties onward.
The benchmark in breast shaping that illustrators of erotic comics aim for, and cosmetic surgeons also, is to be found, I would suggest, in the portrayal of the Triple Breasted Whore of Eroticon in the movie Total Recall. It was a director’s joke to introduce this character from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into the film for a few frames. There being no triple breasted actresses it was necessary to make a prosthetic body part. Seeing that the scene was set in a Martian brothel with an eclectic clientel the designer’s brief would inevitably have called for the most quintessential shape that anyone’s imagination could conjure up. There is, is there not, a close similarity with the version in the comic in the viewing angle as well as in shape?
Finally, and bringing back poignant memories to me, are the speed lines to the left of the penis to indicate upward movement as the Count becomes aroused. It is a reminder of the time when Ian Tovey and I were working on re-interpreting twelve of the National Gallery’s pictures for inclusion in my not-yet-published and looking-for-a-publisher Guide to Erotic Art in London’s National Gallery. The painting that proved the most difficult to get to make the journey from my initial concept as conveyed to Ian in a rough drawing to his finished art was our version of Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus. It was easy enough to turn her through ninety degrees and wrap her arms and legs round the fireman’s pole but it was very difficult to arrange her fireman’s protective uniform which she was still getting into, so that it would be at once revealing and realistic in the way it hung from her sliding figure. This accomplished, there needed to be signs of downward movement and I asked Ian to add some speed lines. The drawing went back and forth between us with me asking for better and faster speed lines until the final result that you see here. The Rokeby Venus was described by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in a 2003 programme devoted to the Velazquez painting as having “the most smackable bum in Western art”. This is the same BBC to which I think I have already referred in an earlier posting which is incorporated by Royal Charter from Her Majesty the Queen.
American readers of these notes to kindly substitute “garter belt” for “suspenders”.
Drawing No 4 With notes and illustrations.
“She’s agreed to all the conditions. She needs money desperately. I can get her to the villa straight away.” the manservant tells the Count.
“Don’t lose a minute!” he replies.
We are five drawings away from her first appearance.
Smokin’ n Pokin’ n Art (”Art” as in Erotic Art in the National Gallery).
The fourth drawing in the Count and the Widow fumetti erotica series shows the Count once again with a cigar in his hand. Later we will see him with a cigarette in a holder. These depictions are a merging of three stereotypical images: The cigar and the cigarette in a holder are a class indicator. The cigar is phallic in shape and can be used as a dildo (a la Clinton and Monica Lewinski). And smoking is traditionally associated with the period following sexual intercourse (the Little Death leading to the lingering death, you could say).
Ian Tovey and I shamelessly employed the cigarette-in-a-holder device in our re-rendering of the National Gallery’s Venus and Mars painting by Botticelli which regulars to this blog will remember from the notes to the first Count and the Widow drawing (which can be re-visited here.
My recollection is that the cigarette-in-a-holder touch was Ian’s idea, but I went along with it and had the final say. So I am the more culpable for any damaging effect that it may have on viewers. The see-through baby doll nightdress being worn by Venus was my idea and in that instance I happy to claim the credit for any good that comes of it.
As is well known, the sex and ciggy connection did not go unnoticed by the big tobacco companies and it took Herculian efforts on the part of legislators to get them to desist from using it to sell their products to impressionable young people. There have been some classic advertising campaigns using subliminal and not-so-subliminal imagery with heavy overtones of surrealism of which the most notable was that for the Silk Cut brand.
It has been suggested that a part of its appeal was a death wish on the part of smokers. Others have taken a more earthy view contending that, what with the vaginal slit and purple labial folds (I am quoting from a learned paper here) it ought to be called Silk Cunt and not Silk Cut.
The same researcher took a side swipe at the insurance ads using an attractive young widow dressed in black, seeing the campaign as being yet another example of the deployment of the death instinct as a marketing aid. It’s Eros versus Thanatos, said the researcher. Eros we all know. We are less familiar with the story of Thanatos, son of Night and Agent of Death but if you delve into it you find that, when Thanatos went to collect Sisyphus, Sisyphus escaped his clutches by chaining him up. The prospect of chaining-up or being chained-up by a lady wearing a black cloak, black stockings and high heels would get most of us signing-up for a With Profits policy without a second thought but my own view is that the Widow from North of the Border’s allure begins and stops with Eros. It is told that a group of Asian business men flying into Edinburgh seeing the billboards phoned the number later on that night in the belief that the company was a high-class escort agency.
The timeline for the history of the introduction of tobacco to Europe largely parallels the invention of painting in oils and was thus well established by the seventeenth century. No more so than in the Netherlands where the Dutch school of genre painting depicting scenes from everyday life thrived. The National Gallery’s collection is particularly strong in this category and it has many works picturing clay pipe smokers in taverns and bawdy houses. The unknown authors of the Gallery’s catalogue descriptions which I sometimes refer to as “blurbs” and who I always imagine beavering away in a bullpen in the Gallery’s basement, have not been slow to impute into depictions of pipes and pipe-smokers an erotic sub-text.
One of my favourites among the National Gallery genre paintings is Hendrick Pot’s A Merry Company at Table (1630). It has it all: An elderly toothless procuress making an obscene gesture with her finger in the bowl of her pipe, free flowing wine and oysters for supper and a mangy dog that looks the sort likely to be a lower class prostitute’s best friend. The dog is licking the fingers of what would be a Laughing Cavalier type except that this cavalier is slumped in his chair without so much as a hint of a smile. He is in what must surely be the “after” mode. The finger licking underlines the licentiousness of the scene says the Gallery and, given where those fingers have just been, the Gallery is not exaggerating.
Staying with this painting, for the moment, and on the subject of the “obscene gesture” with a finger – words from the bullpen, not mine – I was particularly pleased to see that the finger in question is the index finger and not the digitus impudicus middle finger as might have been expected. In an earlier posting I discussed Caravaggio’s Lizard Boy painting and pointed out that the finger being bitten in that picture was the finger that, when deployed upwardly, had a certain meaning. I have long held a theory that, in art, the index finger often has similar connotations. This being the case, I keep a lookout for index fingers being used in an “inappropriate” way and so supports my view. Hendrick Pot’s procuress may be elderly and toothless but her contribution to the iconography of symbols in art does her proud.
My interest in this area of research can be traced back to my military service. I have a clear memory of being instructed in the use of the Bren machine gun, a standard item of infantry equipment in my day. This was 1949 to 1951. The corporal instructor was holding the gun in one hand and using the other to point out the Bren gun’s various parts. He extended the index finger of his free hand and wriggled it and then positioned it, still wriggling, beneath the gun at a point just in front of the trigger but out of view. “This,” he said, “is the safety catch. Some of you will find it more easily than others.” Most, but not all, of the platoon fell about laughing.
I was interested to see if there was anything on the Internet that would confirm that the safety catch on a Bren gun is where the Corporal said it was. I found an exploded diagramme on the site of a Canadian gun dealer. And, sure enough, …
Research into other National Gallery related areas sometimes throws up an interesting if not stunningly relevant item of trivia. The subject of angels, with which the National Gallery’s religious paintings teem, has received a deal of my attention and it was while pursuing this line of enquiry that I came across a actress called Peta Wilson who became famous as La Femme Nikita, a girl from the streets re-habilitated as a contract killer working for the secret service. You can take a girl out of the streets but you can not take the streets out of the girl and so she was rarely seen on her assassination sprees without a cigarette dangling from her tomboy lips. Fairly or unfairly, she has come to be seen as something of a poster child for the celebs-who-smoke fan club. All this is revealed by my indexed notes of the results of research on the Web which have been compiled over the past several years. These notes were the first port of call when I embarked on this article. My notes show that my first encounter with Peta was following-up an image of her in the guise of an angel in her first movie. It was called The Sadness of Sex and although it launched La Femme Wilson on a fabled career it is now almost sunk without trace. When I found the photograph I thought: This is my sort of angel!
Angels in the National Gallery come in all shapes and sizes and are not very exciting to look at. The older ones, while anthropomorphic, tend to be of indeterminate gender. The younger ones are mostly equipped with reproductive equipment but what they do with it only Heaven (spelled with a capital H) knows. None of vaguely female types have bosoms but there is an occasional show of distinctly womanly leg. It would be tempting to see what would be the effect of adding black stockings, suspenders and high heeled shoes. I am not the one to resist such a temptation.
Drawing No 5 With notes and illustrations.
“I’ve got a hard-on already!”
The story so far
We find ourselves in the fumetti erotica world of Villa Orgasmo and are on page 66. Each of the Count’s sexual encounters lasts an average of 15 pages and so the sexual drama being played out before our eyes will be the Count’s fifth conquest of the day. And it still only tea-time! It being a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing like a young widow dressed all in black to engage the senses, on the Count’s orders his manservant has been down to the town to look for one. When the phone rings it is the manservant to tell the Count that he has got a 32-year-old widow for him and he can bring her to the villa immediately. “Don’t lose a minute!” says the Count.
We are four drawings away from her first appearance.
A MESSAGE FROM SAINT AUGUSTINE TO THE COUNT
As the Count contemplates his independently minded penis responding to the news that it’s owner’s wish for a young widow has been granted, he ought to be thinking about Saint Augustine. He probably isn’t but he ought to be. It is more likely that Saint Augustine is thinking about the Count. From his heavenly perch he may even be attempting to send the Count a telepathic message. It would, I think, read: Don’t listen to your mother!
Saint Augustine is the Church’s point man on the waywardness of the male sexual organ. He probably contributed more to the tide of human misery than anyone else in history. In his younger days the Saint fucked everything in sight, shacked-up with a girl and had a child by her and took the best fifteen years of her life and then dumped her on his mother’s orders so that he could make a strategically useful marriage. I would bet any money that his Mother’s choice was an ugly old bible toting bag. Saint Augustine’s Pepysian Moment (see Glossary) came when he complained that God would not let his penis leave him alone and prevent it from getting an erection every time an attractive woman came into view.
Saint Augustine blamed his erectile autonomous-function problems on Satan’s domination of women. (Shades of Doc Martin.) He reckoned everything would have been just fine if Eve had not taken the apple from the serpent. God would have found a more seemly way for mankind to procreate. The trouble that we all have with our penises, says the Saint, is God’s way of punishing us for Eve’s original transgression.
In his youth, prior to taking a mistress, Saint Augustine had cruised the streets of Carthage screwing around with the best of them. Having had his fun he is credited with single handedly imposing upon the Church the doctrine of celibacy for its clergy and unprotected sex for everyone else. His anti-women stance pervades the canonical law to this day. As the most revered of the Fathers of the Church his malevolent presence haunts the early Italian art rooms in the National Gallery and this is where we come in.
Saint Augustine portrait appears in innumerable paintings in the National Gallery, sometimes with his mother in a supporting role. Mum, although not a very nice person, was nevertheless elevated to sainthood as Saint Monica. She is best known today for the road and freeway named after her that stretches the length of Greater Los Angeles. Its starting point is Venice Beach a town of every kind of unbridled licentiousness. There are some people who think that God has a sense of humour.
Saint Augustine lived from 354 to 430. He railed against nudity and it is an understatement to say that the top shelves of today’s corner newsagents would have appalled him. A thousand years were to pass before painters and sculptors would dare to display a female with even a single bare breast and his writ still runs when it comes to the representation of a penis in a state of tumescence. In the eyes of the law the male erection in print is calculated to deprave, the only exception being serious art books such as my Guide to Erotic Art in London’s National Gallery once I find a publisher.
Paintings of Saints Augustine and Mom are desperately dull and need all the ingenuity that I can command to be worth a place on this web site. Saint Jerome (342-420) who was a pen friend of Saint Augustine is another case altogether. Saint Jerome spent several years living in a cave in the desert and in his dreams he was plagued by legions of wild women sent by the Devil to tempt him. Whereas Saint Augustine’s fuck-everything-in-a-skirt days are a No Go area for artists, it is open season on Saint Jerome. Likewise for another Saint, Saint Anthony the Great ((251-356) who spent years holed-up in the desert and hallucinated about beating off wave after wave of hotties - coming at him like Tora Tora - by waiving a crucifix at them.
Unfortunately, I have to report that although the potential for erotic portrayals of the temptation of the two hermits has infinite possibilities, relatively few artists have taken advantage and the Stitch-up is in, big time. (For an explanation of “Stitch-up” as an art term, see Glossary.) Such paintings as there are, are all in other people’s galleries. I do not see why we should suffer and I append a selection from what is out there.
Drawing No 6 With notes and illustrationsNext Drawing
“It’s me that has to arrange the entertainment. You light-up like a beacon, my Beauty, but you only think when you are hard!” At best this is a free translation, more likely I have got it wrong. Anyone who wants to correct me should do so.
We are three drawings away from her first appearance.
THE PLURAL OF PENIS IS PENES
Not a lot of people know that the plural of penis is not, strictly speaking, penises. It is penes. The late Dr Ernest Martin (who we met in The Devil and Doc Martin here) in what, even by his standards, was a somewhat convoluted exercise in logic was very troubled by the fact that churches had pencil shaped steeples and the word “pencil” along with “pinnacle” both had the same Latin root as penis. The origin of pencil, says the Doc, is “small penis”. “Most of you,” he writes, “probably never knew what you were actually holding in your hand when you wrote your last letter to Aunt Mable. “
Obviously in a note accompanying drawing No. 6 in our Count and the Widow narrative - reproduced from an Italian fumetti erotica comic - the starting point must be the prominently featured male member. I have some problems in translating his thought bubble but it does not look like the Count is thinking of his Aunt Mable. It is always possible, I suppose, that he is thinking of someone else’s Aunt Mable.
A comprehensive account of the part played by the penis in art would be as lengthy as Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire so all that these notes can do is to scratch the surface. Perhaps not the happiest way of putting it, but you know what I mean.
As a preliminary matter it is important to understand that the Italian illustrator has taken very full advantage of his comedic licence to exaggerate the size of the object in question. I would not want any of my readers to think that they are in anyway disadvantaged as regards what they have or is available to them as a result of what is shown above.
The author of a guide to erotic art, in my case erotic art in the National Gallery but erotic art in any gallery or museum anywhere, must devise a system of grading penises for size. Fortunately there is to hand a very fine example of an unaroused male member in a famous photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his body-building days. He is now, of course, Governor of the Great State of California but that does not make his penis less valid as a benchmark by which to judge other penises. (You will note that I prefer “penises” to “penes” but it is a matter of individual preference.)
In art penises can be broken down in several different ways. In a book about erotic art size proportionate to the owner would clearly be a first consideration. Signs of arousal would be a second but in conventional art tumescence has been a taboo since classical Greek times and this avenue of research, while not altogether unfruitful, requires imagination and determination.
There is also a distinction to be made between circumcised and uncircumcised (sometimes referred to as intact) penises. In religious art, which makes up a sizeable part of the National Gallery’s collection, the significance is more than cosmetic having regard to Christ’s circumcision on the eighth day and the subsequent role played by the Holy Foreskin.
Circumcised or un-circumcised, Jesus’s penis, naked and unadorned, is the centre piece of many devotional paintings and for good reason. Literally it is his manhood and the best evidence of his incarnate being. Also on display in religious paintings are countless penises belonging to angels and cherubs, often interchangeable with putti and cupids and in all cases not of this world and not designed to serve a reproductive purpose.
Drawing No 7 With notes and illustrations
On his return a little later the manservant tells the Count that the widow is in the drawingroom, adding: “She is dressed exactly as you requested.” Says the Count: “I’m outa here!”
We are two drawings away from her first appearance.
I am debating whether to interpose here some earlier pages relevant to the manservant’s conditions of service. At one point he is ordered to assist his master with the punishment of the maid Yvette. What ensues makes the Temptation of Saint’s Anthony, Jerome and Augustine look like a stroll before breakfast. After that little episode he finds himself taking breakfast in bed to the Count’s Lover, Corinne. Is she hungry!
Just a thought.