Jean Delville, The Idol of Perversity (L’idole de la perversite), 1891

Jean Delville, The Idol of Perversity (L’idole de la perversite), 1891, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York


Jean Delville, The Idol of Perversity (L’idole de la perversite), 1891. Delville was a Belgian symbolist painter, author, poet and Theosophist, studying mystical and occultist philosophies. Such philosophies concentrate mainly on seeking the true origins of the universe, specifically of the divine and natural kind, believing that knowledge of ancient pasts offers a path to true enlightenment and salvation. Delville was the leading patron of Belgian Idealist movement, specifically in art circa the 1890s, having a belief system that upheld art to higher standards of substance, believing that it should express higher spiritual truth, based on principles of Ideal, or spiritual Beauty.  Characteristically to Delville, the artist’s work is usually based on philosophical ideals, however, at the beginning of his artistic career Delville’s work showcased more of an underlying theme of the soul’s transfiguration towards a higher spiritual purpose, specifically themes of Ideal love and death, and the relationship between the physical and metaphysical worlds. Delville, who himself was classically trained at Academie des Beaux-arts, believed in the importance of classical education, stating that it doesn’t necessarily take away from the artist’s individual style or technique, but rather allows for a solid foundation and discipline to be able to explore one’s personal approach and manner as well as stylistic choices. Delville was an Idealist, meaning that he mainly concerned himself with the idea of man versus the transcendental world. Under this belief system, the tangible world as we see and live in is seen as a mere illusion, created to bring suffering and pain. The goal of the living body is to spiritualize itself and to refine our material selves, meaning to elevate ourselves to the level of not requiring or wanting things that are just of material value. Without a spiritual path or goal, men and women that walk the earth become slaves to their material possessions, forever destined to succumb to the desires, passions, greed, and egotistic need to always seek power over one another. Under this belief, the physical world we live in becomes the land of Satan, and those without a spiritual goal become merely his slaves. According to Delville, the first step to true enlightenment is to gain power over earthly temptations, such as promiscuity and erotic temptation. Truly enlightened soul is one that can use the power of his mind to rise above the temptations of, what was believed “unquenched besital desires of a woman”. In late nineteenth century femme fatale embodied the kind of misogynistic idea that women were lower on the evolutionary scale, and female sex was that of animalistic, monstrous and aggressive, hence, the femme fatale characterization, meaning that women’s grotesque sexual desires led men away from their spiritual goals, and thus driving them to live a life in sin, forever slaves to the Devil. In this painting Delville portrays the femme fatale as an almost demonic entity, with the bellow angel as to show her looming over the viewer, with an almost phallic snake, reminiscent of Franz von Stuck’s Sin, slithering between her pointed breasts. This image is a direct representation of Delville’s esoteric ideologies of material versus spiritual. However, albeit the fact that the female sexuality was looked down upon in late nineteenth century, the reason this work caught my eye is that it almost stands for the strength and unapologetic woman of today. With the cultural evolution of our society, not to mention the suffrage movement as well as the ever growing sense of feminism all over the world, this painting in today’s society represents a strong female presence, the resilience of a woman’s spirit and her body, and her complete command and power over her own sensuality. This is an image of an empowered female of today, only to become even stronger in the world of tomorrow. Pictured here is Jean Delville, The Idol of Perversity (L’idole de la perversite), 1891, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York

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