Love, lust and passion – a never-ending story. The temptation and seduction of figures from scripture, mythology or literature are ubiquitous themes in Baroque painting. During the seventeenth century the amusements of contemporary high society also became a popular subject for paintings. Sumptuous still lifes, along with merry companies of young ladies and cavaliers, tell of pleasure and sensuous enticements.
The venues are palaces, gardens, temples, graceful reception rooms and bedrooms with costly stone floors and draperies. Elegant costumes and exotic porcelain reflect affluence, cosmopolitan trade and an economic boom. For these luxury motifs, painters developed a no less sophisticated artistic language, choosing costly, luminous pigments and a time-consuming technique using the finest of brushes.
Skilfully they exploited the titillating appeal of a disrobed Venus, a bathing Bathsheba, or a young beauty at her evening toilet. The velvety brush-stroke and subdued lighting exuded a bewitching sensuousness. Before our eyes, there open up magnificent backdrops with enfilades in perspective, along with curtains, doors and mirrors, all drawing us into the picture. We become the voyeurs of intimate moments. The painters proudly demonstrate the seductive power of their art.
At the same time, though, they warn us against deceptive appearances and the deadly sin of lust (Luxuria). The temptation of St. Anthony, the rape of Tamar and the trickery employed by King David to win Bathsheba all tell of moral abysses. The elegant gatherings with their wine and music, and the still lifes with suggestive delicacies, awaken thoughts of licentious behaviour. Wittily, the artists infuse the feast for the eyes with moral reflection, encouraging joie de vivre while cautioning self-control.