Prostitution in Art

Gilles Farina
Publié le 28 February 2023
Prostitution in Art

For a long time, art has portrayed prostitution in a natural and relaxed way. However, for two millennia, artworks depicting body trade and nudity have often been a source of scandal... Today, Museum TV returns to a subject close to the heart of art.

Religion and morals

Before the emergence of Christianity and the structuring of the church, prostitution was widely represented in art. Firstly, nudity was not the taboo it later became. Indeed, bodies were painted naked to show the beauty of bodies and the purity of souls. Back then, prostitutes represented freedom and pleasure in life.

Many representations of these women can be found throughout Greek and Roman antiquity. But they are also found in India, where freedom of morals was commonplace.

However, with the appearance of Christianity, prostitutes became the symbol of depravity, corruption, sin, and even death...

Since that day, it has been almost impossible to paint women's bodies naked without immediately creating controversy and fury from the defenders of good morals.

There is one exception to the rule! The representation of Mary Magdalene, present in the Bible. Indeed, although no gospel stipulates it, Mary Magdalene is considered by the Catholic Church as an "easy" girl or simply as a prostitute!

Daring to paint prostitution

Many artists have tried to paint prostitution in spite of a reluctant society. Indeed, we can see this in two works:

Johannes Vermeer, 1656

Olympia - Manet
Olympia - Manet

Édouard Manet's Olympia exhibited at the Musée d'Orsay also leaves no room for doubt about his willingness to expose prostitution in his work.

But we can also mention La fête de la patronne by Degas, Le Salon de la rue des Moulins by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec or Les demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso.

As you can see, prohibitions and censorship have not prevented our artists from painting and representing prostitution.

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