Satan Servants and the Spirit of Salem in the Pictures of Félicien Rops
10 min

Satan Servants and the Spirit of Salem in the Pictures of Félicien Rops

10 min

Félicien Rops (1833-1898) was a Belgian artist working in the genre of symbolism. His depictions of witches, flirting skeletons, and naked Magdalene-like women were praised by his friend Charles Baudelaire, whose poems Rops illustrated. The artist began his career with caricatures and satirical lithographs in student magazines while he was studying law at the University of Brussels.

Sarcastic Satan

During the 1860s, Rops traveled a lot and studied etching, which allowed him later to discover a new etching technique. His art and lifestyle were totally in the infernal spirit of that time: “Rops: Anoints himself with rouge, dyes his hair and wears a blood-red shirt: looks, or so he hopes, like a sarcastic Satan.” (Felix Feneon). It’s known that Rops was a mason, so his drawings are often esoteric and full of allegories.

felicien rops pictures demonic self-portrait

Fig. 1. “Demonic” Self-Portrait (the 1860s)

felicien rops pictures mutual oral sex

Fig. 2. “69 Position”, 1870s (

felicien rops pictures lesbos vs sappho

Fig. 3. “Lesbos Known as Sappho” (

felicien rops pictures gozo hermafrodita

Fig. 4. “Gozo Hermafrodita” (

Black Venus

Rops develops satanic motifs in his images. The naked female body becomes a constant element of these sacrilegious works that are very close in their atmosphere to the surrealistic drawings by Clovis Trouille (1889-1975). The woman is always depicted by Rops as a source of sin: she is a bad witch, a seducer, haunted by demons.

felicien rops pictures the shower

Fig. 5. “The Shower” (

felicien rops pictures la dame au pantin

Fig. 6. “La Dame au pantin”, 1877 (

felicien rops pictures Parisian masks

Fig. 7. “Parisian Masks” (no date) heliogravure (29.2 x 17.2 cm),

Black Phoenix

This vision of femininity was much inspired by the poems of Baudelaire. The poet fell in love with a ballet dancer Jeanne Duval from Haiti, whom he called his Black Venus. With her exotic sexuality, she embodied for Baudelaire a dangerous femme fatale, and to love her meant for him to parish. Their unstable relationship lasted for twenty years. The fact that they both suffered from syphilis also adds an infernal touch to their love-story.

felicien rops pictures Jeanne Duval

Fig. 8. Jeanne Duval (taken from

Little Deaths

In the works of Rops, sexuality is not a vital feature, in contrast, it’s a prerogative of the dead as in the print by Kuniyoshi (fig. 11). The death in the vision of Rops is a sex-starving coquette, and Cupids are literally “little deaths.”

felicien rops pictures Dance of Death and The death at the Ball

Fig. 9. Left: “The Dance of Death” (ca. 1865) etching (55 x 37 cm). Right: “Death at the Ball” (ca. 1865-1875) oil on canvas (150 x 85 cm),

felicien rops pictures sentimental initiation

Fig. 10. “Sentimental Initiation”, 1887 (

felicien rops pictures enmaro diabolo Kuniyoshi

Fig. 11. Kuniyoshi, “Enmara diabolo” from “Kaidan hyakki yagyô” series, 1830 (

Eve and Lilith

The sinful females of the artist’s works are not only descendants of seduced Eve and ancestors of the Whore of Babylon. Their voluptuous bodies and red hair flipping in the wind remind of Lilith, who is said to be the first Adam’s wife in Alphabet of Sirach (c. AD 700–1000).

felicien rops pictures

Fig. 12. Untitled (no date) watercolor, colored pencil (22.9 x 28.6 cm),

Red-headed Figure

Both crucified Venus (Eros) from “St. Antony’s Temptation” and the French Liberty seem to be similar to this apocryphal red-headed figure. She was also made of clay as the first man, and she didn’t want to obey her husband, or, if we say more precisely, didn’t want to be under Adam during the intercourse. So she broke up with him and left the garden of Eden after spelling the secret name of God. Being outside Eden, Lilith became a demon who is harmful to the children of Eve and to the birthing itself.

felicien rops pictures st anthony's temptation

Fig. 13. “St. Anthony’s Temptation”, 1878 (

felicien rops pictures the social revolution

Fig. 14. “The Social Revolution” (

felicien rops pictures: appeal to the masses

Fig. 15. “Appeal to the Masses”, 1878 (

Witch-Hunt and Lars von Trier

The image of the woman with a crucified mixture of Christ and Baphomet/Pan behind her back or the depiction of a magician summoning the female spirit makes us think about the period of witch purges.

felicien rops pictures: le calvaire

Fig. 16. “Le Calvaire” (“The Satanic Calvary”), 1882 (


The trials led by the inquisition resulted in approximately 40-50 hundreds of men’s and women’s deaths during three centuries (from 1450 to 1750). “Malleus Maleficarum” (“The Hammer of the Witches” 1486-1487) was a treatise that provided a theologic and methodologic base for the prosecution of witches. It is said in this book that satan’s worshippers are mainly women, who are destined to practice witchcraft because they are sinful creatures damned by God.

felicien rops pictures: the sacrifice

Fig. 17. “The Sacrifice”, ca. 1882 (

Wrenching Tortures

Sophisticated investigations and wrenching tortures provoked mass hysteria. Women accused of witchcraft began to believe in all accusations and told inquisitors about their non-existing crimes.

felicien rops pictures:

Fig. 18. Illustration du livre d’Octave Uzanne, “Son altesse la femme” (“Her Highness Woman”),1885 (


Rops uses these medieval religious concepts in his works and shows the woman as a manipulative courtesan who can give you a Cupid’s disease after you paid her for a kiss. The feminine chaos that reigns over the works of Rops is relatively close to the spirit of “Antichrist” (2009) by Lars von Trier, where the main female character realizes that her gender is absolute evil.

felicien rops pictures: lars von trier antichrist

Fig. 19. The sex scene from “Antichrist”, 2009

felicien rops pictures: prehistoric coupling

Fig. 20. “Prehistoric Coupling”, 1887, color pencil, watercolor, gouache (30.5 x 23.6 cm.),

Fig. 21. Left: “Woman & Madness Rule the World” (ca. 1887-93) heliogravure (24.2 x 16.3 cm). Right: “Prostitution & Madness Rule the World” (ca. 1887-93),

In and Out of Yoshiwara

The most famous work by Rops is “Pornocrates,” (real period in the history of Popes (the 10th century), when harlots of noble families could manipulate with the popes’ assignment) depicting a naked woman with a pig. The titles of arts written in the lower part of the image make this allegory clear: the art itself has to coexist and contact with pornography.

Infernal and Violent

Whether you’re a puritan or not, you can’t deny that “The Naked Maja” by Goya will always be more popular than “The Clothed Maja.” Rops’ fascination with female sexuality, lust, and prostitution is comparable to the same interest of his Eastern colleagues who worked in the Shunga genre and often blended satirical tones with infernal and violent.

felicien rops pictures: pornocrates

Fig. 22. “Pornocrates”, 1896 (

felicien rops pictures: cherub's song

Fig. 23. “Cherub’s Song” (1878-1881) watercolor, gouache, pastel, chalk (22 x 15 cm),

felicien rops pictures: the right to rest, the right to work

Fig. 24. “The Right to Rest, The Right to Work” (ca. 1868) etching (ca. 7.94 x 10.6 cm),

felicien rops pictures 'Centaura'

Fig.25. ‘Centaura (primavera)‘ (19th century)

felicien rops pictures: Impudence

Fig.26. ‘Impudencia (Impudence)‘ 19th century

Felicien rops pictures: etching 'En visit'

Fig.27. Etching ‘En visit (Visit)‘ (19th century)

felicien rops masturbating nun

Fig.28. ‘Masturbating nun

felicien rops horny clown

Fig.29. ‘Horny clown

felicien rops posing courtesan

Fig.30. ‘Posing prostitute

Felicien Rops Parallelism

Fig.31. Heliogravure ‘Parallelism‘ (ca. 1896)


As mentioned in the article some of Rops themes bare comparison to Kuniyoshi’s Kaidan hyakki yagyô series. You can click HERE and check out the complete series…..!!

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