The wedding party. (c. 1667-1668) Jan Steen


Ideas about love changed a great deal over the centuries before modernity. Romantic love and a primary focus on intense, individual feelings and personal bonds were literary conceits more than socially legitimised reality, especially when arranged marriages were the norm at the elite level. There was a gap between the places where love was shaped and performed visually, and the venues in which it was validated socially.

Wooing was conducted at masquerades and balls, but also in churches and markets, and sex was obtained at inns and bathhouses as well as in brothels and alleyways, but not all of these locations were eroticised in images. Read the complete essay.