The Naive and Pure: Sentimental Erotica In Sadism

You may think that I am going too far, but the dead bird in the picture represents the loss of virginity. Diderot was certainly well aware of it when he made his comment, “I wouldn’t mind being a cause of her pain.” There are times when Jean-Baptiste Greuze is a little more explicit, adding to a symbolic object, like a broken jug below, a naked breast, crumpled dress and disheveled hair. The erotic value of these paintings is particularly appalling when we consider them in the context of his other works, which are generally moralizing. I think the painter has invented his own unique genre of sentimental erotica that explains so much in Sade. The misfortunes of virtue do turn on!  The question of course remains, and people have every right to know, is Jean-Baptiste a closet libertine, or rather a libertine in spite of himself?

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