female intimacy

October 13, 2019

More explicit depictions of sex between women appear in northern Europe, where the invention of the printing press profoundly altered the nature of homoerotic imagery by providing formats that were reproducible, comparatively inexpensive, and small enough to tuck out of sight. Printed images of female homoeroticism were common by the early sixteenth century, indicating widespread demand, and these scenes, too, reflect men’s attitudes toward female homoeroticism. But here the emphasis is often less on men’s pleasures than on their fears. Images of women touching one another in bathhouses blend with illustrations of witchcraft, a concept that returned to popular attention as a result of interest in classical, mainly Roman, texts. Sometimes satirical, but growing more earnest over the course of the sixteenth century, treatises on witchcraft emphasized its connection with female intimacy, citing as a common symptom women’s belief that they had traveled in the night among Diana’s groups or other all-female groups. The still common belief that witches fly on broomsticks may be traced to these texts, where descriptions of groups of women riding oiled sticks ‘to their pleasure’ allude to communal masturbation. Johann Weyer’s 1563 medical book is explicit in declaring that witches become ‘inflamed with love just as young men are for girls.”

Christopher Reed
Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas

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