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Le sphinx

19th century
45 cm x 31.6 cm (17 11/16 in. x 12 7/16 in.)

Félicien Rops (Namur (Belgium), 1833 - 1898, Essonnes (near Paris)) Primary

Object Type: print
Artist Nationality: Europe, Belgian
Medium and Support: Photogravure
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, University Purchase, 1961
Accession Number: P1961.45

In Félicien Rops’s fantastic scene, a nude woman embraces a carved sphinx as a dandified devil looks on. The mythological sphinx, who devours men incapable of solving her riddle, was popularized as a Symbolist theme by Gustave Moreau. Half-woman, half-lion, she symbolized the dangerous, manipulative, or monstrous qualities ascribed to independent or seductive women at the time. The woman’s union with both the sphinx and the devil makes this an appropriate frontispiece for J. Barbey d’Aurévilly’s "The She-Devils," a collection of short stories about enigmatic and vengeful women.

Rops frequently depicts women as instruments of the devil, blending the erotic and satanic in tableaux that suggest demonic rituals. The similarly decadent author Joris-Karl Huysmans praised this imagery, writing, “He has restored to LUST, so stupidly limited to the silly anecdote, so vilely materialized nowadays, its authentic occult omnipotence…. Rops has, in a word, celebrated the spirituality of LUST that is SATANISM.”

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