Art and Allegories of Lust

Many societal opinions on sex were influenced by allegories of lust in Christian art. Lust is, of course, associated with sex, as it is typically seen as the cause of sexual acts. It has also been identified by philosophers and Christian religious authorities as one of the seven deadly sins (Tucker). Over the course of this presentation and the following discussion, keep this question in mind: How do these depictions of the sin of lust influence and reflect society’s perceptions of lust and sex, as related to what talked about last week?

Personifications of lust in art history have taken many forms over time. In the middle ages, symbolic depictions of the sin of lust were the most common. These mostly took the form of a nude woman with a snake or toad biting her. They mostly were found as reliefs on churches and tombs, often accompanied by images of damnation or a religious figure “saving” others (Thomas, et. al 93). The snake and toad are symbols associated with evil or the devil; thus, these symbols sent the message that lust is a sin which infects humans (women), leading to closeness with the devil.

Lust is most commonly personified as a woman. She is often scantily clad or completely nude/naked. In the engraving Lust by Leon Davent, the personification of lust seen in the imagery of a woman and child who are believed to be based off depictions of Venus and Cupid. The torch the woman carries in her left hand symbolizes hellfire, and is common in depictions of the seven deadly sins (Tucker). It equates the seven deadly sins with hell and damnation. In the engraving, chains and the specter of death accompany lust. The chains connect to the people surrounding her chariot, including a holy man. In this piece, the message becomes clear: lust, in the guise of a pagan woman and her child captures you and forces you on the path to death and hell.

Allegorie auf das Mönchtum by Hans Sebald Beham depicts three of the seven deadly sins (lust, pride and greed) holding back a monk by his cape, preventing him from reaching the oath of poverty he should take and the bible, as held out by a farmer. All three sins are depicted as women. Lust herself, at center, is scantily clad (for the time period), wearing a low cut dress which is rucked up to her knees and no shoes. Yet again, this depiction of lust, as a woman, keeping a holy man from the bible and his vows is particularly damning, as it equated femininity with lust and sin. This equating of the two is furthered in depictions of lust as a woman where she is nude.

Yet perhaps the most well known and impactful piece denouncing the dangers of lust is Lust by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In this painting, the female allegory for lust sits at center, in the lap of the enthroned devil (Tucker). All around, various beasts, devils and even some humans are caught in scenes of chaotic ecstasy, creating a wild scene of sexual depravity. In the background, flames can be seen, thus equating lust with hell. According to Tucker, “the print’s inscription reinforces how sexual excess destroys human reason and power, or how sexual excess, to use its language, “unmans the man”” (Tucker).
These depictions of lust as a woman equates femininity with lust and sin. This is not a new practice; throughout art history, allegories of principles such as lust were depicted as women so that men could feel like they had control over them. Machiavelli, in The Prince, said “Fortune is a woman and it is necessary, in order to keep her under, to cuff and maul her” (Melion and Ramakers 633). Pertaining to the personification of lust, Justus Lipsius, a German philosopher, stated that lust is a ‘womanish vice’ (634).

Yet lust has not only been personified as a woman. Other allegories of lust include animals and mythological creatures. In Allegory by Piero di Cosimo, “a winged woman, largely nude despite her two layers of mantles secured by knots, extends a sprig of juniper and daintily holds a rearing stallion by a string. She has been…identified as Chastity, who effortlessly contains the forces of Lust embodied by her virile steed… The double-tailed mermaid who energetically parts the seas before them may be understood as a siren symbolizing the dangers of carnal passion” (Allegory). Horses, goats, roosters and reptiles are most commonly associated with allegories for lust. This is one of the few times in art history where a woman triumphs over lust without the assistance of an outside force.

In Triumph of Virtue over Lust by Johannes Wierix, a satyr is the personification of lust. An angel who symbolizes virtue saves a woman from lust. This trend is common as well; when men and mythological creatures are depicted as lust there is often a woman who must be “saved” from them by another man or angelic figure (Tucker). In this way, depictions of women in allegories of lust and sex are often the sinful ones or the victims to be saved. What does this tell us about the way that beliefs about lust and sex have been communicated? How does this relate to the way that sex and sexuality is taught to us?

Work Cited

“Allegory.” The National Gallery of Art, The National Gallery of Art,

Melion, Walter S., and B. A. M. Ramakers. Personification : Embodying Meaning and Emotion. Brill, 2016. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=nlebk&AN=1179887&site=eds-live&scope=site&custid=asc1.

Thomas, Joe, et al. 1000 Erotic Works of Genius. Parkstone International, 2014.

Tucker, Shawn R. The Virtues and Vices in the Arts : A Sourcebook. Cascade Books, 2015.

Art and Sex in the Western World: An Overview

Sex is timeless, and depictions of sex in art are no different. However, attitudes toward sex has changed over a millenia, and sexual art has reflected those changes. This is especially prevalent when looking at the history of Christianity and how it has impacted this art. Erotic art has been created both due to sexual freedom and sexual repression (Thomas et. al. ix). Ancient works record some of the earliest pieces of erotic art. Archaeologists have found Greek vases depicting erotic scenes from mythology and between regular people. Etruscan tombs likewise have been found with erotic scenes decorating the walls and sarcophagi (xiv). Yet most surviving sexual art is from the Romans. It is mostly found in brothels and public baths, but archaeologists have also found erotic scenes in homes. One example of this is The House of Mysteries in Pompeii, which features frescoes depicting women worshiping a phallic figure (xv). This Roman art has in turn informed a lot of western art.

During the medieval period, sex was directly equated with sin in Christianity, so depictions in art fell by the wayside in Europe (Thomas et. al. xi). The same occurred during the Renaissance, when once again, sex was a taboo subject. Yet the reintroduction of Classical art revitalized some sense of eroticism in art. Nudes became very popular, and some sexual scenes from myths were drawn. These paintings were often made for the upper class, and were male sexual fantasies. The scenes depicted were associated with violence (often against women), paganism and death (Nichols). An example of this is An Allegory of Venus and Cupid by Agnolo Bronzino. This painting depicts Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and Cupid, her son, in a sensual embrace. The purpose of this painting is to condemn lust by equating it with paganism and death, as the man suffering from syphilis in the background suggests.

Artists ran a fine line between recreating Classical art and maintaining Christian values (Thomas et. al. 130). If they were too explicit, painters could be thrown in jail (Nichols). This resulted in art that used “implicit eroticism:” it was not clear that the scene itself was sexual, but there was a certain eroticism to the work that lent itself to being sexual. An example of this is Dying Slave by Michelangelo. Though the subject matter is that of a dying slave, as the name suggests, the slave’s face is closer to that of a man in ecstasy than someone who is dying.

The church responded to this revitalization by censoring or destroying a lot of this sexual art during the Baroque period. After years of “prudery” in art (Thomas et. al. 244), the Rococo period reopened implicit erotic art. Though no scenes were explicitly shown, the precursor to sex was often alluded to in the form of a man pursuing a women, or, in the case of The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a man looking up the skirts of a woman.

Over the following century, the evolution of artistic movements resulted in different opinions on sex in art. The birth of the symbolist movement coincided with scientific studies on sex and sexuality. This resulted in a fascination with, among other things, the erotic. Most pieces from this movement were censored; however, it inspired a new era of sex in art. The surrealist movement in particular drew on Freud’s emphasis on sexuality. Many artists believed that sexuality was essential in understanding and expressing oneself and the world around you; as such, artists such as Salvador Dali introduced eroticism into their works (Thomas et. al. 772). This resulted in pieces like The Great Masturabator by Salvador Dali, which depicts a woman leaning up next to her partner’s clothed erection. In contrast, with movements like abstract expressionism and impressionism, a focus on eroticism fell to the wayside due to the focus on experimentation with other artistic techniques (Thomas et. al 386).

With the incorporation of sex into popular culture in the ‘50s the blatant addition of sex into art increased (Thomas et. al. 772). In pop art and consumerism this mostly took the form, once again, of male sexual fantasies. However, with the start of women’s liberation and LGBT social movements as well as the introduction of modern birth control, more diversity in sexual art became apparent. Some sexual art took the form if critiques of sexualization, some were used for profit, and some was an attempt to reclaim people’s bodies (929). However, thereafter sex and sexuality became a more visible part of art history. Do these perceptions of sex as seen through art reflect society’s opinions regarding sex? How do these impact the way we think about sex and sexuality?

Works Cited

Nichols, Tom. Renaissance Art: A Beginner’s Guide. Oneworld Publications, 2010.

Thomas, Joe, et al. 1000 Erotic Works of Genius. Parkstone International, 2014.

Art and Intoxication

Much in the same way as morality, art reflects society’s values. In the case of intoxication, art reflects society’s attitude toward the use of mind-altering substances such as alcohol and drugs. Plenty of art which depicts intoxication is used to condemn it; however, there are some cases where intoxication in art is either treated as a method to create humor or to denote spiritual awareness. Certainly, plenty of art has been created while intoxicated (the most famous is believed to be cave paintings); however, for the purposes of this segment, only art which depicts intoxication will be the focus.

Early art depicting intoxication was plentiful. It was commonly seen in scenes depicting deities. The Triumph of Dionysus sarcophagus depicts a procession of the acolytes of Dionysus, who was most popularly the god of wine. Scenes depicting Dionysus were often hedonistic scenes of revelry, where he and his followers were intoxicated. Yet the joyous tone created by the scenes of ecstatic dancing and the undulating, smiling people does not condemn intoxication. Though the scene is chaotic, it is a celebration of the dead, Dionysus, and his lifestyle.

Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness is part of a folio from the Divan of Hafiz by Sultan Muhammad. The piece depicts a revel, using brightly pigmented ink to differentiate the characters in the scene and their reactions to the party. According to the MET, where the illuminated manuscript is kept, “the tavern party, complete with ecstatic dancers, singers and overindulgent drinkers, is given a new meaning by the presence of angels on top of the pavilion, suggesting that the state of drunkenness can be likened to that of spiritual enlightenment. As a Sufi symbol, wine stands for heaven’s divine light and the cup into which it is poured, for the devotee’s heart” (“Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness”). In this way, this piece equates intoxication with otherworldly revelation.

Drunken Immortal beneath an old tree by Chen Zihe likewise equates drunkenness with otherworldliness. Depicting, as the title suggests, a drunken immortal being sleeping under a tree, the correlation of the two is not in any way malicious. Rather, Chen Zihe used the drunkenness in his art to signify his rejection of traditional art conventions; as drunkenness was seen as unconventional, so too was the artist’s new style, which involved slashing diagonals, a massive scale, and “animated brushwork,” a contrast to previous styles (明 陳子和 古木酒仙圖 軸). In equating the two, Chen Zihe does not condemn drunkenness, but rather presents it as a new way of thinking.

The Drunken Man on a Chariot on his Way to Hell, from Hymmelwagen auff dem, wer wol lebt by Hans Schäufelein directly equates intoxication with going to hell, as the piece literally depicts demons leading a drunken man to hell. The chaos of the scene, with its overlapping figures and lack of color to differentiate them, is especially damning; due to this, the audience is overwhelmed. Through this piece, the audience equates a sense of being overwhelmed and going to hell with intoxication, thus turning the audience’s opinion against drunkenness.

The Drunkenness of Noah by Michelangelo is found in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. A deep sense of shame is reflected in this painting, caused by Noah’s drunkenness. This sense of shame is seen through the pointed fingers of Noah’s compatriots and an attempt to cover Noah, as if to protect him from the community. Though Noah is a well-known and important figure in Christianity, this humiliation as caused by drunkenness matches Christian opinions towards intoxication: namely, that it is, in a word, shameful.

The Triumph of Bacchus by Diego Velazquez depicts the Roman god Bacchus (who is often equated with the Greek god Dionysus) giving drinks to several Spanish men. Like Dionysus, Bacchus is the god of wine. The men around him are intoxicated, yet Bacchus seems to be totally sober. The pagan god looks off into the distance with a serious, narrow-eyed expression on his face, a contrast to the glee of the surrounding men. One may even argue that he looks conniving due to his narrowed eyes and the fact that he is facing away from the men he is serving wine to, as if he is a corrupting influence through the alcohol he gives out. By having a pagan god act as this potential corrupting influence, Velazquez demonizes pagan religion by equating it with drunkenness.

L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas depicts a woman sitting in a bar with a glass of absinthe in front of her. The muted color scheme and far-off, sad, jaded look in the woman’s eyes creates a tone of desolation in this painting. Equating the desolation with the drink placed in front of her, this painting depicts the degradation and sadness caused by drunkenness during a period where people were more likely to partake in societal drinking. How do you think that the different societal opinions on intoxication, as seen in these works of art, impact the way that we see intoxication today?


Works Cited

“‘Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness’, Folio from the Divan of Hafiz.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

“明 陳子和 古木酒仙圖 軸 Drunken Immortal beneath an Old Tree.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

Art and Consumerism: Super Bowl Edition

As a result of the rise of consumerism and technology, goods, including art, have been easily reproduced in advertising in order to endear consumers to stores and products. This reproducing of art has a long history; art forgery has existed since the Renaissance. In art studios, many famous artists trained their apprentices by having the apprentices reproduce past works. More recently, artists like Picasso have modernized older pieces of art in order to adapt it to the current era. One example of this reproduction and modernization is Vincent Van Gogh by Geoffrey Amelott. This piece is a reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s Self Portrait (1889) made out of lego blocks. It creates an optical illusion. If the viewer is familiar with the work of Vincent Van Gogh, they can see the image itself as the similarity in color composition triggers a memory of the original painting. Reproductions are also made to make money; many museums reproduce the most famous paintings in their collections in for people to take home as a memento which the museum in turn makes money from.

Popular culture, especially, is reproduced in advertisements because of the emotional attachment many people have to specific subjects and the renown many pieces of popular culture have. Take, for example, the Star Wars Volkswagen commercial which aired during the 2012 Super Bowl. The video, with the child dressed as Darth Vader and distinctive Imperial March theme, brings to mind being a child and trying to use the force after watching the Star Wars movies. Through this, the consumer creates a connection with the faceless child. When the Volkswagen comes to life (even it is through the power of the father’s car remote) it is as though those dreams of using the force came true through Volkswagen.

Music is most commonly reproduced in advertisements. Coca Cola’s America the Beautiful commercial reproduces the sentimentality that some may feel listening to the iconic song. By reproducing it in multiple languages, it makes sure that the song touches people no matter what language they speak. This sense of “inclusivity” and sentimentality is tied to Coca Cola, as these products unite the scenes in the commercial. Apple’s 1984 commercial creates a montage of climactic scenes from a cult classic book. By juxtaposing a scene in which a woman destroys a brainwashing machine (thus starting a revolution)  with an announcement for Apple’s new product, they argue that Apple will lead the revolution of technology.

The use of fine art in advertising is selective because it relies on knowledge of popular art pieces and unique interpretations of the piece to make the advertisement memorable and effective. Yet by using famous pieces of art, companies relate their goods to important cultural and historic work. Take, for example, Pantene’s Mona Lisa advertisement. It replaces Mona Lisa’s flat hair with that of a hair model. The by-line “restores age-damaged hair” almost makes one conclude that Pantene can fix 400+ year old hair, even on a painting.

Orbit’s Banana advertisement is based on Andy Warhol’s Banana. The ad reproduces the work in a series of vibrant colors before showing a half eaten image of the banana with a pack of orbit gum at the bottom. This is just one example of an ad which uses Andy Warhol’s work. Campbell soup used his piece Campbell Soup Cans in an ad promoting their products, and many of Warhol’s portraits of famous figures like Marilyn Monroe were used in a Japanese Coca-Cola commercial, where each was given a coke. Because Warhol used so much popular material culture in his works, it is easy for companies to adapt his work to their purposes, especially those companies whose things they worked with.

Finally, Renault Group used Picasso’s works in an advertisement for car safety in their products. By juxtaposing a Renault car (with the caption “with airbag” under it) with one of Picasso’s cubist portraits (with the caption “without airbag” under it), Renault Group used the disjointed eccentricity of Picasso’s style to humorously advertise the safety of their cars. That they used an artist who spent much of his life in France (though he himself was Spanish) connects the French company to the artistic history of that same country, creating a company playing off of their French identity. In this way, art can be manipulated to serve the wishes of companies through their advertisements. What other pieces have you seen reproduced in advertisements? How did it impact your feeling about the product it was selling?

Art and Consumerism

Art was and is a symbol of high status and luxury; to own art was to be successful, both monetarily and in society. Portraits of the rich and powerful were often filled with some of the person’s most prized possessions, likewise symbolizing their wealth. Yet it is only towards the end of the industrial revolution that consumerism and art have been clearly linked. The market for art has grown much broader; no longer is art for the rich, it is now also for the middle and the lower classes. Accessibility has grown for consumers, playing a large role in the way people buy and the economy works.

Art is the baseline of advertising. Companies use pieces of art to create recognizable logos which the public recall, thus helping with sales and marketing. Take, for example, the Target, Apple or Nike logos. All are simple, but if you saw them or something that gives the faintest impression of that shape, even without a company name, you would immediately think of the company. Commercials, billboard advertisements and online pop-up ads are created with an eye for design in order to draw people in and make people buy their product. For example, the Coca-Cola Santa advertisements used and commercialized the image of Santa to convince people to buy Coke products because he was a well-known and loved symbol. In this way, art is crucial to advertising.

The theme of using cultural images is not solely relegated to advertising, of course. The era of “pop art” began in the ‘50s, near the same time that the United States reached the peak of their “golden era.” The country’s victory in World War Two and the sense of power gained by this resulted in the explosion of the economy and in art. Soon, the explosion of “American” culture and consumerism became widespread, making its way into the arts community and resulting in what we know as “pop art.” This era of art was characterized by the utilization of cultural icons as symbols (Skotstad 561). Andy Warhol is most famous for his utilization of people like Marilyn Monroe and goods such as the Campbell Soup cans. His piece Campbell Soup Cans comments on the reproducibility and devaluation of goods in a consumerist society through the reproduction of, naturally, the Campbell soup can. He stated that through the devaluation of goods, the rich and the poor used similar products, giving common ground in a class-based divide (Fineberg 252).

Pop art and consumerisms’ intersection inspired a new wave of critiques on consumerism and anti-consumerist art in modern art. Amy Orr’s World Map-Credit Card Mosaic is made of plastic cards and glue, on a map backing. It speaks to the commodification of the earth and the extent to which consumerism has subsumed our identities. Orr stated that she works with credit cards because with the impact of consumer culture, “we place our livelihood in these plastic cards, and that gives them meaning” (Douglas and Orr 2018). The credit cards, which are arguably a symbol of consumerism, represent access to wealth, services, international commerce. Through the names tied to credit card companies still clearly seen on each plastic card, Orr ties identity with consumerism, arguing that consumerism has become so important that it has changed the way we shape our identity. We put our identity in our socio-economic status, which is signified by items as simple as pieces of paper and plastic cards.

A popular anti-consumerism artist is Banksy. Believed to be based out of the UK, nobody knows the identity of this artist. They are famous for their “pop up” statues and artwork, most of which takes the form of street murals. The famous and most recent work by Banksy is Love is In the Bin, a print of their mural Girl with Balloon which was half shredded immediately after it was bought in an auction in 2018. While there are many interpretations to this piece of art, it may also be a denouncement of consumerist culture because of the nature of the piece as performance art. In destroying the piece directly after it was bought, Banksy is making a statement about the nature of goods in a consumer’s society: namely, that they are impermanent, and should not be bought and sold at inflated prices which privilege the rich. In comparison to the pop-up shop which sold authentic Banksy paintings for 60 dollars, the extreme price and subsequent destruction of this Banksy work highlights the privileging of one group of people in consumerist culture.

Consumer Jesus by Banksy is the piece which is most critical of consumerist culture. Through the depiction of the crucified Jesus with shopping bags nailed to his hands, Banksy comments on the way that consumerism has subsumed other identities. If we look at this piece through a religious slant, it critiques the way that money and the wish for goods and power has subsumed Christian identity. Perhaps even more, it comments on the way that Christianity as a religion has been commercialized through holidays. What do you think this piece of art says about consumerism?



Works Cited

Douglas, Logan, and Amy Orr. “Gallery Talks Interview.” 15 Sept. 2018.

Fineberg, Jonathan. Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being. Prentice Hall, 2011.

Stokstad, Marilyn and Michael Cothren. Art: A Brief History. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2007.

Art and Morality

Within the field of religious art (and otherwise) morality has played a big role in the creation of art theory. With morality comes one of the most circular relationships between art and a principle. Morality impacts the creation of art, as it is used to dictate the responses to scenes and even subject matters. Yet art also dictates morality. This relationship is one of the driving factors which has in turn led to the millenia old debate about censorship (Kieran 129). In art history, opinions about how art does impact morality has changed over cultures and artistic eras. This debate began with Plato and Aristotle, as both began to argue that what viewers see in art impacts their emotions and opinions (Kieran 133). The debate was revitalized in the 19th century, where it was used as a valid motivation for finger-pointing at artists who presented on subjects outside of the norm (Kieran 134). In recent years this issue has become more widespread as more fields of the arts have been created and accessibility to the arts has increased.

Naturally with this debate the depiction of morals in paintings has changed. In the medieval era, especially within religious art, morality was prevalent as depictions of biblical stories were used to teach what was right and what was wrong. More often than not the paintings were punctuated by scenes of prosperity and happiness to show the good things that would occur should society-dictated “good” morals prevail. An example of this is the series The Effects of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. While not strictly religious or relating to morality in nature, these murals do present the audience with the distinction between good and bad and encourage them to take the “good” path. In the “good” path, justice is seated enthroned, flanked by figures such as peace, and more generic figures who look like angels. As a result, Lorenzetti paints a prosperous and happy city in the next scene, with figures dancing and a bright color palette. In contrast, in his paintings of the “bad” path, tyranny, with his devil horns, sits enthroned. The countryside as a result of the “bad” government is destroyed, with dark colors which create a morose mood. With the intentional juxtaposition of these murals in one place, people in the government would be encouraged to take the path of the “good” government, using the tenets personified in the figures around justice like peace.

The Rococo era of painting led to a lack of emphasis on moral topics as opulence became the focus of most paintings. Patrons wanted to showcase their wealth and power, so commissioned artists to reflect this in their paintings. Yet, as opulence became mainstream, many poorer artists bucked against the style, ushering in a criticism of the wealthy and opulent (Barris). Perhaps the most famous Rococo era painter who covers this topic is William Hogarth. Born in 1697 to a poor middle class family, Hogarth was hired by patrons to do portraits of the powerful and wealthy of England. While creating these portraits, Hogarth became concerned about what he saw as the “deterioration of British morals” in the 18th century. A growing divide between the upper and lower classes and a consolidation of resources given to the rich meant that they became lavish and more likely to take part in unmoral pursuits (Kessenich). Hogarth believed that this would result in the degradation of society, so endeavored to show how these behaviors would lead to ruin. He also believed that art should contain moral messages (Kessenich). With these two beliefs in mind, he created three series of engravings and paintings, entitled Marriage a la Mode, A Harlot’s Progress and A Rake’s Progress.

A Harlot’s Progress takes the form of a storyboard. In it, the main characters fall deeper and deeper into vices which would be considered unethical during the time, partaking in partying, sex, drunkeness and opiates. By the end of each series, the main character has found herself dying; she are clearly suffering due to her lack of morality. There are symbols which represent the degradation of self as a result of the lack of good morals. The deteriorating buildings in the background is representative of the deterioration of the subject’s soul in the painting. In The Tete a Tete scene of Marriage a la Mode, the Hogarth’s perceived wrongness in society is seen through the dog, which is a symbol of fidelity, pulling a handkerchief out of the man on the right’s pocket. Art historians believe that this was a sign of his infidelity, as the handkerchief was made for a woman, and fidelity was revealing his indiscretions (Kessenich). Yet, his wife does not seem particularly worried; rather, she seems smug. Art historians believe that she has also taken a lover who has just fled, knocking over a chair in the lower left corner of the painting. Both have just come in from an evening of debauchery, with the male still feeling its effects. However, these vices are being punished; even as the couple is surrounded by opulence, they are broke, represented by the accountant rolling his eyes skyward and the solitary bill paid out of all their other bills being paid. With this Hogarth seems to argue that overt opulence during a time when so many were poor is sign of bad morals and would be punished with the very item which was causing those bad morals. In this case, that cause is money.

Hogarth’s focus on morality during the Rococo period was perhaps the first stage of the shift to moral stories in Neoclassical art. This period of art is characterized both by the transition back to the classical style of painting, which emphasizes realism, and a shift to an emphasis on moral stories, as dictated by society. This could in turn be used as a weapon to control society’s interpretation of what is right and wrong, becoming a method of socialization (Barris).

Even artists which detested the neoclassical style still clung to this use of moral stories, though with more recognition of the grey space between what is considered moral and immoral. In Théodore Géricault’s historical painting The Raft of the Medusa, the viewer is confronted with the dilemma of morality vs survival. According to art historian Christine Riding the painting shows “the fallacy of hope and pointless suffering, and at worst, the basic human instinct to survive, which had superseded all moral considerations and plunged civilised man into barbarism” (Riding). This is a significant example of a time when morality is forced to cave in the face of reality. In this case, in order to survive the horrific shipwreck of the Medusa, the survivors were forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive on the ocean (Riding). This painting, based off of a real-life event, became a source of debate about moral-based censorship in France, igniting debates about how art can dictate morality.
In the recent years, themes of morality in contemporary and modern art have become less clear cut.

The emergence of this era of art is punctuated by a cast away of reason and logic, resulting in a lack of artistic rules. This shift to abstract art and a focus on the lack of reason has created art which seemingly has no themes of morality and art which has glaring themes of morality (Kessenich). This disparity in themes of morality is new, and has revitalized debates about morality and art.

What do you think about this debate? Does art impact morality?

Works Cited

Barris, Roann. Rococo Art and the Beginning of Its Rejection. Radford University,

Kessenich, Veronica. “The Lead-Up to Contemporary Art.” ART 105: Contemporary Art. ART 105: Contemporary Art, 14 Jan. 2019, Decatur, Agnes Scott College.

Kieran, Matthew. “Art, Morality and Ethics: On the (Im)Moral Character of Art Works and Inter-Relations to Artistic Value.” Philosophy Compass, vol. 5, no. 5, 2006, pp. 129–143., doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00299.x.

Riding, Christine. “The Medusa Shipwreck.” History Today, vol. 53, no. 2, Feb. 2003.