Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Roman Bathing Venus 3: By Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

In the Tepidarium (1881)

This, in Triple P's opinion, is the apotheosis of the classical subject as an excuse for an erotic nude in Victorian painting.   One of a series of Roman bathing pictures by the man born as Lourens Alma-Tadema in Dronrijp in the Netherlands in 1836, he took up the classical bathing theme having seen a number of similarly themed pictures by that other pillar of Victorian classicism, Lord Leighton.  Whilst Leighton set his bathing pictures in the world of Ancient Greece, however, Alma Tadema's classical bathers were all Roman.

Alma-Tadema's father died when he was four, leaving him with a sister and three elder half-brothers by his father's first wife.  His mother engaged a drawing tutor for the older boys and the young Louren's joined them showing an immediate facility.  He was destined for a career in the law but was diagnosed as consumptive as a teenager and wasn't expected to live long.  His mother let him give up his formal studies so  he could carry on drawing and painting in the short time she thought he had left to him.  Alma-Tadema unexpectedly recovered his health and began formal training in art at the age of sixteen at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp where he studied for four years.  He voluntarily gave up his formal training to work on commissions and started by painting subjects relating to the history of Belgium and Holland.

Gallo-Roman Women (1865)

In 1862 Alma-Tadema went to London where he visited the British Museum and its collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities. On returning home he started work on some Egyptian-themed works using things he had seen in the museum as inspiration.  In September 1863 he married Pauline and took his honeymoon in Italy visiting Rome and Pompeii.  Pauline is something of a mysterious character and Alma-Tadema only mentioned her once, to say he had got married, in his writings.  In 1865 he painted his first Roman-themed work, Gallo-Roman Women and from then on paintings set in Ancient Rome became his mainstay.  Pauline died in 1869 and later that year, unwell himself, he visited London again for medical treatment where he met seventeen year old Laura Epps, the daughter of a famous society physician (he had been Emily Bronte's doctor, for example).

Laura-Theresa Epps (1871)

Fed up with the largely negative reception to his paintings in Brussels and struck by Laura, Alma-Tadema moved to London, where paintings of classical subjects were much more popular, permanently in 1870.  He never lost his Dutch accent and indeed never really learned to speak English at all fluently but as a painter he was an enormous success. Engaged as Laura Epps painting tutor they married the following year and she started to model for him.  He was thirty four, she eighteen.  Some credit Laura for his London success as she apparently told him to brighten up his paintings and make them commercial as she didn't want to live in penury for the rest of her life.  In 1873 he changed his name from Lourens to the Anglicised Lawrence.

In the Tepidarium was painted ten years later in 1881 and is almost unique in Alma-Tadema's ouevre.  He rarely painted nudes except as small figures in larger, historical settings as we shall see shortly.  Despite being in the lukewarm room of the baths his subject has a flushed, almost sweaty face.  She contemplates an outrageously phallic strigil, used to scrape oil off the body. The curve of this historically accurately rendered object seems to echo the curve of her hip and thigh and generates images of it stroking her pliant body.  The loosely held peacock fan appears to be about to drop from her fingers such is her lethargic, abandoned state.  It covers her groin whilst also drawing attention to it; the tips of its feathers caressing the area enticingly.  Her right leg presses against her left one almost as if she is rubbing them together.  This is a highly sexual painting.

Apart from the strigil and the marble there is little that justifies the nude, in Victorian terms, by its historical setting.  It is really just an eroticised vision of a contemporary naked woman dropped into a (barely) historical setting.

The original picture is tiny: Triple P saw it in an exhibition in London once and if you click on the image above what you see on your computer is probably larger that the original which is just 13" x 9" (24cm x 33 cm).  At the size of one of Alma-Tadema's regular paintings the erotic effect would have been overpowering.  For example, referring to his much larger A Sculptor's model (1877) the Bishop of Carlisle observed: "To exhibit a life-size life-like almost photographic representation of a beautiful naked woman strikes my inartistic mind as somewhat if not very mischievous."

The Sculptor's Model (1877)

This picture was produced for the painter John Collier's father.  He had wanted Alma-Tadema to take on his son as a pupil which Alma-Tadema (as usual -Laura Epps was an exception) refused to do.  He did, however, let John sit in on the creation of this picture which was done in the nature of an instructive piece.  After this Alma-Tadema did not paint any more single nudes (other than In the Tepidarium) unless they were incidental figures in larger compositions.

An Apodyterium (1886)

A good example of this is his next Roman bath house picture, An Apodyterium (changing room), painted in 1886.  The only nude figure is just off centre removing her shoe. The main figure, on the left, looks at the viewer who knows she is about to undress.  The erotic charge is much more subtle as we imagine what we could see shortly.  This painting was voted "picture of the year" by the Pall Mall Gazette.

The Frigidarium (1890)

An Apodyterium was bought by Sir Max Waechter who commissioned a companion piece, The Frigidarium in 1890.  It has a similar right hand side weighted composition but the naked women in this have dropped even further into the background as they sit around the cold pool in the baths.  Waechter a  German-born but naturalised British business man and art collector is best remembered for ensuring the preservation of the magnificent view of the River Thames from Richmond Hill by preventing development on its lower slopes.

Thermae Antoninianae (1899)

Alma-Tadema's penultimate Roman bath painting is the Thermae Antoninianae (also known as the Baths of Caracalla) of 1899.  A spectacular rendition of the architecture of the baths in Rome it contains a myriad of figures, in contrast to his earlier works.  As his bath house paintings progressed they contained more figures as if he was zooming out from the solitary figure from In The Tepidarium to encompass the entirety of the bath house experience.  This image mixes men and women, something that happened only in certain times in Roman history; usually the two sexes bathed at different times of day.  One critic observed that this scene showed how "the frivolous society of the decaying Empire lives again in this picture."  Alma-Tadema later declared it to be his favourite painting,  That same year he was knighted.

A Favourite Custom (1909)

His final bath house painting, A Favourite Custom, brings the nudes to the fore again as two young ladies desport in the water,  It was painted in 1909 the year his wife Laura, who had become a very well regarded painter in her own right, died during a visit to Hindhead in Surrey at the age of 58.  Alma-Tadema was heartbroken and the following year only managed one painting.  He died in Wiesbaden, which he was visiting for health reasons, in 1912, and is buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral..  

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nicaraguan Venus: 6 Million visits and Barbara Carrera

We have just passed six million visits so, as usual, we will look to find a Venus from the country with the closest population to six million.  That country is Nicaragua which gives us the opportunity to feature one of our favourite actresses from the seventies and eighties the utterly gorgeous Barbara Carrera.

Ah, Miss Barbara Carrera!  At Agent Triple P's school, in the first half of the seventies, the ideal woman was blonde, big busted and preferably Scandinavian. Now, in these days of FHM's sexiest woman and the like it is difficult to comprehend that back in the seventies there were hardly any attractive women, whose name you knew, in the media.

There were the Bond actresses but the ones in the early seventies (Lana Wood excepted) weren't up to much. There were the Page 3 girls (but not in Triple P's house!) and, er...well that was it, really.  Nobody knew the names of models then. Attractive singers?  We seem to remember the girls from the group Heart were very popular at school but, in reality, they were not that attractive, really.  Sports stars?  No Eastern European tennis dollies then. We had to make do with Chris Evert who was only attractive in comparison with other sportswomen.  TV stars?  There was Leela from Dr Who with her little leather outfit but she wasn't actually that attractive either.  It would have been impossible to put together a top 10 in those days, let alone a top 100, and half of them would have been from Top of the Pops' Pan's People dance troupe.

It's an ill wind that blows no good.  Barbara feels the effect of the wind in a blustery Cannes in 1977

But in 1977 along comes another version of HG Wells' The Island of Dr Moreau starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York.  Much in evidence in the pre-release publicity shots was a stunning young (actually she wasn't that young) actress called Barbara Carrera.  She made an instant impact on the Triple P.

Publicity shot for The Island of Dr Moreau

"Can I stroke your pussy?" says Michael York

Then, someone (it could have been Snout) at school brought along the July 1977 Playboy (months later) mainly for a pictorial on porn stars which was unusually explicit for Playboy.  

Flicking through it, despite the undoubted charms of Playmate Sondra Theodore and the brazen displays by The New Girls of Porn, we were more excited to see a pictorial featuring Miss Carrera promoting The Island of Dr Moreau.

Up until now we had only seen this beauty in grainy black and white publicity shots in newspapers and the largely equally grainy and black and white film magazines on sale at that point.  This was before the days of glossy film magazines such as Empire in the UK.

To see this superb creature flaunting her perfect legs and even more perfect breasts, falling out of a series of flimsy outfits was quite wonderful.  The picture above, where we can just see a glimpse of her fleece as the strange beastman, prepares to pull her nightdress off before, no doubt, giving her a good ravishing, was potently erotic.

This shot, by pictorial photographer, Chris von Wangenheim, has Barbara with the sole of her shoe pressing against the beastman's groin as she poses ecstatically in the sand.  Ah, the beastman or, rather beastmen, as there were two separate creatures: the horny satyr and the leonine creature. This is what really disappointed Triple P about the pictorial. Barbara was superb but these strange creatures ruined the atmosphere somehow.

We didn't want to see Barbara posed with a strangely made up man.  This pictorial started something of a trend and Hustler featured something very similar the following year although, sadly, without Miss Carrera.

Even the final picture, which had Barbara gloriously naked (apart from her stilettos) was ruined by the beastman (or maybe we were just jealous).

This picture didn't appear in the original pictorial but if it had we would have been even more envious of Mr beardy lion creature who has his hand pressed firmly on Barbara's perfect bottom.  Grr!

On the cover of Vogue Italia in 1973

From the accompanying article we learned that she was from Nicaragua and had been a fashion model.  This explained her exotic looks and world class legs.  It was Miss Carrera who opened Triple P's eyes to the fact that busty blondes were not necessarily the ultimate manifestation of feminine beauty and, in fact, ever since we have preferred slim, darker women to blondes (redheads are a different matter!). 

An early fashion shot of Barbara (right) in Vogue, 1972

Born in Nicaragua in 1945 (although she has been known to take quite a bit off her actual age) to an American father and a Nicaraguan mother her parents separated when she was young and she found herself in the US at an early age. Changing her name from the far from exotic Kingsbury she adopted her mother's maiden name.

She had started work as a model at the age of seventeen for the Ellen Ford agency and had been known to Playboy for some time as she had already appeared on the cover of the magazine in February 1972.

Early modelling shot

She had made her first film appearance by then, when she appeared as a teenage model in the 1970 film Puzzle of a Downfall Child.  She was 33 by the time The Island of Dr Moreau came out.

Although she had one or two other film appearances the modelling took priority until the Rock Hudson Embryo 1976, her first femme fatale role. Barbara's naked form enhanced the poster significantly.  This is a bizarre case where the producers failed to copyright the film so that it is now in the public domain which means that anyone can turn out a DVD of it and they do.  All with terrible quality, sadly.  

From Sex in Cinema Playboy November 1975 with an unappreciative Rock Hudson

From December 1976's Sex Stars pictorial.  Also from Embryo

Prior to her Dr Moreau pictorial Playboy had featured her twice in the November 1975 and the December 1976 issues as well for her role in Embryo.

February 1979 saw Barbara appearing in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

As a yummy mummy in the world's cleanest frontier fort in Centennial

Her role in The Island of Dr Moreau was high profile enough that she started to get a lot more TV and film work.  Next came a role in the mini-series Centennial (1979) where her exotic looks got her cast as what we would have then called a Red Indian squaw.

One unusual aspect of Centennial, which you wouldn't get in an American made series today, is that Barbara displays authentically furry armpits.

In 1981 she appeared in another period drama, the rather good Masada which, apart from the usual dubious Roman uniforms, was quite enjoyable, although Barbara was somewhat over-dressed for our taste.  Still, with cheekbones like that who cares?

This still was a magazine favourite!

On display in I, the Jury

Another rush of Carrera posing followed with the release of I, the Jury in 1982.  There were many, many pictures of her naked on the bed in the more downmarket film magazines at the time.  "And," as Barry Norman probably never said, "why not?" 

Barbara bonking with Armande Assante in I the Jury

Sadly, this really rather enjoyable film isn't available on DVD, which, considering the rubbish that is, is most disappointing.

I, the Jury gave Playboy an excuse to feature Barbara in their year end Sex Stars feature and this shot is a preview of a pictorial that would appear in the magazine in March the following year.

The release of I, the Jury gave Playboy the excuse for another Barbara pictorial  although as they often do, they made their celebrity not look like themselves; in this case giving Barbara's lovely long hair a  big hair eighties do.

The Spanish edition of Playboy that month used one of the shots from the pictorial inside rather than the studio shot the US edition had featured.  Such a bold display would not have been permitted in the US, however.

Getting top fashion photographer Marco Glaviano to shoot the new pictorial was a masterstroke.  Italian Glaviano had moved to New York from his Native Italy in 1975 and soon had an exclusive contract with Vogue.  His opening double page shot of Barbara for this pictorial really showcases the utter magnificence of her rear end.

These jungelicious photos are just what Triple P wanted to see in the 1977 pictorial which featured the annoying beastmen.  Playboy had redeemed itself!

This is the shot used on the cover of Playboy Espana.

Glaviano became famous for his pictures of women with sand sticking to their bodies.  This at a time when other photographers employed people to brush sand off their models on beach shoots.  In this magnificent shot Barbara's bush stands out from between her sand-kissed thighs.

More evidence of the magnificence of the Carrera rear.

This was the definitive Barbara glamour shoot, images from which Playboy used for years afterwards.  It should be remembered that she is in her late thirties here.

The Spanish March 1982 Playboy pictorial featured this different crop which makes Barbara's breast caressing more evident.

1983 saw Barbara appearing in two films; the first being the Chuck Norris action film Lone Wolf McQuade.

It was her second film that saw her get her definitive femme fatale role in the alternate James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983).  She claimed she turned down the lead role in Octopussy so she could work with Sean Connery.

Publicity shots from Never Say Never Again

She not only became the finest Bond bad girl ever, as Fatima Blush, but had the best demise for a villainess in a Bond film as well.

From Playboy December 1983

The release of the film had Playboy featuring Barbara in their December 1983 Sex Stars pictorial in a previously unseen photo from her Glaviano shoot.

Here are a couple more unpublished shots of Barbara in this fine little outfit. Close inspection reveals enticing strands of evidence that her bikini bottoms are rather on the small side.

From July 1983 Playboy

More excellent shots of La Carrera's completely awesome bottom.

Here are a couple more of the black, backless one piece swimsuit too.

A more conventional but no less appealing gold one piece here.

A final sunset one.

More shots by Marcus Glaviano of Barbara on the beach in (and largely out of) her fringed bikini.

From 1985 to 1986 she appeared in 25 episodes of Dallas where she had the opportunity to wear some typically over the top fashions as she played yet another femme fatale.

It also gave Playboy another excuse to pull out a picture from the Marco Glaviano shoot for their Sex Stars feature in the December 1985 issue.

The films she appeared in got smaller from this point and she appeared more on TV than in the cinema.  Films like Love at Stake (1987) didn't exactly set the box office on fire, although she looked as splendid as ever in this period Salem witch hunt comedy.

Point of Impact

1993 saw Carrera playing another smouldering femme fatale, as Cuban crime boss Michael Ironside's wife in Point of Impact (AKA Spanish Rose)  Enticing scenes in a nicely see through swimsuit and several passionate sex scenes with Michael Pare followed.

 Jealous, jealous, jealous!

The sex scenes are particularly realistic, with none of that weird rolling about that Hollywood often uses in lieu of actual sexual movements.

Apart from Mr Pare's enthusiastic thrusting here are also scenes of implied oral sex

Another femme fatale role, this time as David Warner's wife, in the following year's Tryst (1994).  Amazingly Carrera is 49 years old at this point but still looks fabulous and can still pull off a passionate sex scene.

Barbara continued to appear on (mainly) TV until 2004.  Her last appearances being in two episodes of Judging Amy.

Now 68 (or 59 according to her) she is a keen painter and has had several exhibitions of her work. 

She has married and divorced four husbands and seems to have a penchant for European aristocrats.

So, Barbara was one of our all time favourite actresses of the 1970s and 1980s.  Her deep, sultry voice, long dark hair, stunning figure and beautiful face combining to form pretty much the perfect woman for Agent Triple P.

Agent Triple P never did end up with a black-haired, leggy lovely (she is 5'8") but not for want of trying and at least she had the effect of getting Triple P to appreciate all the raven haired beauties he met in Italy in the eighties.  We had been well and truly weaned off busty blondes by then although, ironically, one was lurking around the corner for Triple P in the mid eighties.

Barbara certainly did see through clothes very well!

Here she is in 2006, at the age of 62, still looking marvellous.  If she has had plastic surgery it is very, very good.  Nothing beats a good bone structure!  Classic!