Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)
Pencil, ink wash and watercolour on paper support: 279 x 178 mm frame (Royal): 598 x 447 x 25 mm on paper, unique
Presented by A.L. Assheton 1928
N04423 Messalina was the wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius, and was noted for her sexual appetite and depravity. At night she would leave the Imperial palace to voluntarily work in a brothel, a journey which Beardsley depicts here. The design was produced for an edition of Juvenal’s ‘Sixth Satire’, published by Leonard Smithers. Smithers published a succession of erotic material in the 1890s, some of it illustrated by Beardsley. Previously refuted or ignored, the female libido was very much a topic of quasi-scientific and religious debate in the 1890s, when opinion began to acknowledge it for the first time. This coincided with the beginnings of a reconsideration of women’s status in society.