The paintings of the Bavarian artist, Franz von Stuck (1863-1928), are full of strange, mythological creatures, femme fatales, and allegorical figures.
It is difficult to tell whether the Sphinx is kissing or devouring her male victim. His vulnerability and surrender, and her sexual aggression, are a marked reversal of traditional gender roles at the time, yet also display a fear of female sexuality.
A similar theme appears in Stuck’s allegory of Sensuality. Like the Sphinx, the female nude has her face obscured by shadow, and the eye is drawn to her breasts. The vast serpent twined around her body is reminiscent of Eve and the fall from Eden. It is at once compelling and disturbing.
This is one of my favourites. I really like how the lovers blend seamlessly into the darkening landscape.
The women’s dresses seem to be an extension of their bodies. They look almost like flames or flowing water.
This figure of Sin is very similar to Sensuality, right down to the vast serpent. Clearly, sin and sensuality are indicated to be one and the same.
A triumphant Salome dances, as John the Baptist’s head is exhibited in the background.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about a lot of Franz von Stuck’s art. I’m drawn to it from an aesthetic point of view, and I like all the dark imagery, but I feel like it often represents ‘woman’ and ‘corruption’ as synonymous. I do realise that there was a lot of inherent sexism in the art and literature of the time, but I’m not sure that I like being beaten over the head with it quite so much. But then, perhaps I’m reading too much into it. I’d appreciate any thoughts on the subject.