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Similarly to the ‘Decadence Now! Visions of Excess’ exhibition
(30 September 2010 – 2 January 2011), the following three Museum objects also employ erotic themes, though in the context of the nineteenth century.
Gentleman’s pocket watch with erotic scenes
Geneva, Luigi Duchene et Fils, after 1800
gilded copper, enamel (watch), base metal, chalcedony (key)
inscribed on the inner case and the clockwork: Duchene et Fils
inv. no. 48 031 / purchased 1958
A watch on a chain or a fob was a luxury item for personal use, and provided plenty of room for erotic depictions hidden from everyone but those for whom they were intended. The double case pocket watch was in vogue from the Rococo period to the Empire period. The outside of its outer case conceals a playfully erotic scene executed in a painterly enamel technique. The truly indecent scene with the same figures appears only upon opening the watch, on the inside of the outer case, and also on the case covering the clockwork. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the ultimate expression of fascination with the running of a clockwork was the appearance of automaton watches with movable figures called ‘jacquemarts’, cut from gold sheets and symbolically striking the time. This watch, too, has an unusual secret place with an erotic scene. By pressing the stem of the watch, not only are the jacquemarts set in motion, but a gold cover slides away and a miniature erotic scene appears from an inconspicuous place under the face, whose figures truly move. The outside of the outer case of the Empire watch (made by the family-owned firm of the Duchenes in Geneva) is decorated with an enamel picture of a girl in the embrace both of a soldier and of a priest. The action continues inside the watch. From the open landscape the first scene shifts to an interior with a drawn curtain. The nature of this scene is now completely different. Whereas the first scene was merely risqué, this one is outright obscene. And, though we know the maker of the technical part of the watch from the inscriptions on the clockwork and on the inner case, the artist of these scenes did not sign his work.
(PhDr. Petra Matějovičová)
Goblet with a licentious scene
North Bohemia, c.1815
Engraved colourless glass, inscription: Le Coup de Vent. Ou le désagrément des étoffes légères (A Gust of Wind, or The Inconvenience of Light Fabrics)
inv. no. 94 043 / acquired 1971
The high-quality engraving executed in late Empire style depicts a total of five figures: two sets of lovers (or married couples) and one man, set in a schematically depicted natural exterior. The subject matter of the scene is the moment when a gust of wind has raised the skirt of a woman in the centre of the composition and her breasts are also exposed. Her partner smiles slyly, while a second couple hurries off. The man looking on, perhaps just a passerby, is dumbstruck. The mildly lascivious French inscription acts as an explanation for the less worldly observer.
Goblet with a scene of a woman driving a man
into a birdcage
The Bohemian Lands, after 1800
Cut and engraved colourless glass
inv. no. 76 833 / purchased 1973
The meaning of the cage (and bird) motif has recently been analyzed in detail by Lubomír Konečný. He sees in it three erotic meanings, which became established in the early modern age: ‘First of all, the cage is a symbol of love, in which the two lovers are “imprisoned”. Second, the cage signifies the vagina and the bird the penis. And third, the bird flying out […] of the cage symbolizes loss of innocence or […] loss of virginity’ (Konečný 2002). The engraving on the front side of the cylindrical goblet depicts a man crawling into the birdcage, driven from behind by a woman with a lash in a schematic landscape. From this it follows that the scene can hardly be considered a depiction of marital bliss. Two other explanations are also possible – the woman is demanding marriage or the fulfilment of the duties of a husband or a lover. The rustic, even poor-quality, execution of the whole engraving is quite in keeping with Konečný’s other claim – namely, that ‘only straightforward metaphors firmly rooted in the vernacular survived into the nineteenth century’ (Ibid,
p. 189, n. 19).
(PhDr. Jan Schötnner, Ph.D.)