March 1, 2017

New York Public Library shows off its collection of Venetian smut

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If you haven’t recently sworn off the pleasures of the flesh, then perhaps you’re looking for a little titilation. Well look no further than the New York Public Library’s new Venice in Love exhibit

The collection’s sixteenth-century Venetian prints may seem tame to the modern viewer: in one image, a fully clothed woman touches her breast longingly; in another, a sleeping woman is turned away from the viewer. But look closer at some of them, and you’ll see a bit more.

That’s because a few of the prints on display are erotic flap books, in which a portion of the image can be lifted to reveal some lower delights beneath the surface. The erotic flap book, according to the exhibit’s curators, is a rare and beautiful thing. The medium was most often used for instructive purposes, revealing the body’s anatomy for example, but the NYPL holds what may be the only existing examples of the art being used to erotic ends.

In one flap book, illustrated by Donato Bertelli, a leisurely gondola ride with two female passengers becomes, with the lift of a flap, a full-on grope session between a man and woman. In another, unattributed, example of the art, a woman stands innocently enough in an elegant dress, but lift that flap and you’ll see the sexy underwear and platform shoes she’s wearing underneath.

The flap books are interactive and voyeuristic, and timeless examples of erotic art.

Of the diverse the exhibition, which runs through August, the library says:

Titled “Love in Venice,” the exhibition at The New York Public Library will examine the literary, artistic, musical and cultural aspects of Venice’s seductiveness, including its beautiful courtesans, lavish festivals, lively carnivals and libertine counter-culture. On view will be works as diverse as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, one of the most iconic works produced in Venice to explore ideas of desire, to flap books showing the undergarments of Venetian prostitutes, etchings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, letters from Lord Byron’s paramours and examples of wedding poetry celebrating the unions of leading European families.

 

 

Ryan Harrington is an editor at Melville House.

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