Images of Making
Needlework: La dentellière de profil
This image of a lacemaker exemplifies Rops's preoccupation with various forms of creative production, including those traditionally dismissed as unworthy of artistic representation by the Academy with its rigid structures of hierarchization. The composition and subject matter of La dentellière situate this work within a long pictorial tradition of lacemaking in art of the Low Countries. See also La vieille à l'aiguille, below.
Cf. A Woman Making Lace, 1661-64, by Gabriël Metsu (Dutch)
Cf. The Lacemaker, 1658, by Frans van Mieris the Elder (Dutch)
For an overview of lacemaking and the lace industry in the Netherlands, click here.
Music: L'organiste du diable
In this work Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, plays a phallically reimagined pipe organ. Disregarding the scroll of music in front of her, the saint sits in carefully posed profile, a posture better suited for viewer admiration than for musical production. This emphasis on beauty over function aligns with the philosophies of arts movements of the mid- to late-nineteenth century such as Aestheticism and Decadence, which prized music for its euphonious harmony and emotionally evocative qualities over any possible social or political function. Saint Cecilia—as well as figures such as that in La lyre, below—serves as a muse of Decadence, embodying the (often eroticized) beauty of artistic production.
In other prints, such as Le bassoniste, below, Rops delivers representations of musicianship based in Realism; the stylistic contrast between images like this and that of L’organiste exemplifies Rops’s versatility of genre and topical interpretation.
Theatre: Le théâtre gaillard
Le théâtre gaillard, which translates roughly as “bawdy theatre,” captures many varieties of production within its theatrical setting: Rops depicts dancers, actors, and orchestral musicians, as well as instrument-playing putti and copulating couples along the borders of the stage.
While L’incantation explicitly caters to Decadent distrust of women—this man has just conjured a female servant of Satan through his Compendium Maleficarum in a room whose central tapestry portrays Eve with her apple1—the work also pays tribute to the power and wonder of creation. Appearing at a historical moment transformed by advances in technology, science, and medicine, many new inventions might have felt like magic to the general populace. Technological changes such as the mid-nineteenth-century advent of photography enabled Rops to experiment with heliogravure and other new artistic forms, expanding his creative options and rendering possible final products that would have been unfathomable fifty years earlier.