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The art of desire: visual pleasure across the centuries

Seven-week art history and theory course

Short courses

● Cancelled

  • 8 October 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 15 October 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 22 October 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 29 October 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 5 November 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 12 November 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 19 November 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm

Part of our

Klimt / Schiele

events programme
Go to exhibition page

Egon Schiele, Standing Female Nude from the Waist Down with Green Garment, 1913.

Graphite, watercolour, gouache on primed japan paper. 48 x 31.5 cm. The Albertina Museum, Vienna. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and the Albertina Museum, Vienna.

Join international scholars for a seven-week series on erotic art and explore how artists from across cultures have treated one of the most intrinsic human desires, from ancient civilisation to the present day.

Since we made our first paintings on cave walls, humans have used art to represent their needs, fears and accomplishments. Depictions of nudity also date back to this early period. The Venus of Willendorf– an 11cm symbol of fertility dating from 30,000 BC – is now considered one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of sculpture. However, the accentuation of parts of the Venus’s body – the breasts, buttocks and stomach – suggest that the sculpture could also be considered one of the first ever erotic works of art.

While the human sexual drive unites us all, the depiction of erotic themes has evolved hugely over time and differs dramatically across cultures. Widely acclaimed examples of erotic art include Hellenistic vases, murals located in the red-light district of ancient Pompeii and Japanese Shunga woodblock prints. However, there are many lesser-known examples of erotic representation, including those from the Middle Ages and Renaissance when the genre was often banned, leading to the use of allegory and symbol in place of explicit depictions.

This seven-week course explores the history of erotic art and how the erotic art of each era or culture can reflect the prevailing ideas of the time. It coincides with an exhibition of the drawings of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele at the Royal Academy. Initially considered pornographic by many, Schiele’s drawings and oil paintings are now perceived as a pioneering leap in modern art and a blisteringly keen observation of the human form and psyche. Today, the exploration of this theme could not be more timely, as social conservatism and liberalism again come to blows. What constitutes erotic art in our increasingly liberal age? Might erotic art see another pushback from social conservativism?

This course will include discussions of a number of questions, including:
• What are the cultural foundations of the universal desire to depict sex and sexuality in art?
• How has erotic art changed over time?
• To what extent does our culture determine what constitutes erotic art and what constitutes pornography?
• What is the role of contemporary artists in depicting sex and sexuality?
• Should erotic art be considered a form of political art?

Leading art historians and experts will explore landmark paintings and sculptures from ancient times to the twenty-first century, which have changed the way we understand sex and the erotic. They will take an interdisciplinary perspective on core themes in the history of art, including both fine and decorative arts.

The course has a broadly chronological sweep – from the arts of the ancient world to the Middle Ages, European seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the treatment and meaning of contemporary erotic art.

● Fully booked

● Cancelled

  • 8 October 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 15 October 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 22 October 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 29 October 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 5 November 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 12 November 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm
  • 19 November 2018, 6.30 — 8.30pm

Wolfson British Academy Room, 6 Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts

6.30 – 8.30pm each week (registration from 6pm) £420. Includes all materials, light refreshments throughout, and a drinks reception at the end of week 7.