Composite by the author. Images courtesy Goliath Books

Peek into Marqius de Sade’s Very NSFW Mind with a New Book of Illustrations

The namesake of "sadism" wrote and commissioned prolific amounts of erotica that still pushes the boundaries of taste over 200 years later.

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Aug 6 2018, 10:01pm

Composite by the author. Images courtesy Goliath Books

Depending on who you ask, Marquis de Sade is either the embodiment of human depravity, a Larry Flynt-like martyr for free speech, or something in between. Legendary Italian filmmaker Pier Pasolini found him interesting enough to adapt his long-unpublished opus 120 Days of Sodom into one of the most disturbing films of all time, and he's entranced artists and psychologists for centuries.

As Miki Bunge, founder of indie publisher Goliath Books, put it to VICE, “Marquis de Sade is the personified perversion.” Later this month Goliath is releasing 101 rare illustrations commissioned by the infamous French aristocrat, born Donatien Alphonse François, in a new book that’s essentially a portal directly into his famously unsavory imagination.

It’s difficult to pin down who actually drew the collected scenes for the sexually unhinged French aristocrat and namesake of “sadism.” Some contents of the issue, titled Marquis de Sade – 100 Erotic Illustrations, look like Ye Olde Bang Bros. Surrounded by embossed walls, columns, and arches, squads of testosterone-fueled dudes wearing coifed wigs plunge into orgiastic tangles of women. From there, it gets more kink.com, with priests fucking nuns, two women fingering each other to the sight of arson, and another hanging from the ceiling by a rope tied around her wrists.

Obscenity on this scale was not just frowned upon in polite society at the time, but highly illegal, so it’s no surprise that the copper engravings lack an artist’s signature. Four years after commissioning these pieces in 1797, de Sade was imprisoned by Napoleon for his books describing these scenes, Justine and Juliette. Whoever did the artwork likely wanted to avoid a similar fate, which made it difficult for Bunge to identify their creator. “Today it is assumed that some of them did not come from the same illustrator,” he said. “As far as we know, we have all original artwork from this period in our book.”

Bunge collected the illustrations from the tomes of de Sade’s work published in the 1970s, some of which were more than 500 pages long, in addition to original illustrations he acquired. 100 Erotic Illustrations is designed to be a more manageable look at the controversial figure’s visual legacy.

But what is that legacy? De Sade has captivated artists and psychologists for centuries, but looking at some of the more graphic illustrations in the book, Napoleon's decision to imprison him seems rather reasonable. Even Bunge grapples with how to think about de Sade's work. “The pictures are quite explicit, especially for that time," he said. Perhaps the most troubling detail about the illustrations is that Goliath had to modify some of them, “especially those involving children,” to make them fit to publish in 2018.

However depraved, Bunge argues fiercely for de Sade's importance to modern discourse. “You can clearly see how different forms of society have dealt with his work differently over the centuries,” he said. At one point, de Sade had been so thoroughly scrubbed from the collective consciousness that his own descendants learned of his work from a historian who approached them looking for information.

Bunge's own conclusion about de Sade's legacy is not satisfying, but sits comfortably within the grey area between condemnation and complacency. “I think Marquis de Sade was a rich snoot who could afford anything thanks to his position. Including sexual harassment and rape. Of course, you can't approve of this," he said. "[However] free expression of opinion is the basis of any society worth living in. Thus, Marquis de Sade and everything that deals with demonized content is still highly topical today.”

That in mind, below is a selection of the (v NSFW) art from Marquis de Sade – 100 Erotic Illustrations.

Marquis de Sade – 100 Erotic Illustrations is available now from Goliath Books.

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