“The Great Dance Macabre Of Life” by Martin Van Maële (34 Pics)
11 min

"The Great Dance Macabre Of Life" by Martin Van Maële (36 Pics)

11 min

Martin Van Maële (1863-1926) was a French illustrator, mainly known now for his erotic drawings. His father was an engraver and teacher at the Beaux-Arts school in Geneva. Maële illustrated texts by Anatole France, Paul Verlaine, Edgar Poe, Conan Doyle. He also produced illustrations for ancient and medieval classics like Apuleius, Ovid, and Aretino.

Sharp and Hilarious

The style and topics of Maële’s works are similar to ones in the images by Felicien Rops, whose apprentice Maële possibly was. Though, there is a little information about this great artist on the web, his sharp and hilarious drawings are still exciting to discover.

Fig. 1. Left: Maële, a woman and a holy phallus (variation on the temptation of st. Antony), 1905. Right: RopsSaint Therese as a philosopher”, 1860s.

The Great Dance Macabre of Life

In 1899, Maële met his future patron and employer, Charles Carrington, who collected and published erotic pictures. “The Great Dance Macabre of Life” (“La grande danse macabre des vifs,” 1905-1907) became the most remarkable Maële’s book that Carrington commissioned him to create. The set consisting of 44 pictures includes rape scenes, pedophilia, satire, and grotesque. In some drawings Maële uses wordplay (e. g. Fig 3: French words “mal” (evil) and “male” (male).


Such a wide range of amoral subjects can be explained by the idea of this book entitled literally “The Deathly Dance of Life.” The engravings are truly macabre, and the humor of the series is a grin of the skull, which is beyond good and bad. The central character of the book is apparently Saturn, the god of time, dressed as a knight. The giant phallus with paws lying on the ground belongs to Uranus, the father of Saturn. According to Greek mythology, Saturn was a son of Uranus (Father Sky) and Gaia (Mother Earth). Uranus and Gaia produced thousands of ugly giants. Uranus didn’t like his children and put them back into the womb of suffering Gaia, who couldn’t stop bearing new monstrous creatures. Saturn, their minor son, was asked by Gaia to cut off the phallus of Father Sky to put an end to this process.

Fig. 2. Maële, Saturn with the giant phallus of Uranus, 1905.


In the Roman mythology Saturn was a patron of agriculture. The celebrations dedicated to this god were called saturnalia. During the saturnalia people organized carnivals where slaves were equal to free citizens. The feasting crowds were also sexually liberated.

Fig. 3. Maële, “And deliver us from the male, amen”, 1905-1907.

Shunga and Surrealism

Shocking themes and weird fantasy of the artist make these engravings close to the works of his Japanese colleagues like Kunisada and Shozan.

Fig. 4. Left: the cover of the second issue of Maële’s book. Right: male wearing the Tengu mask (Utagawa KunisadaStories of the great Yoshiwara fire”, 1836, detail)

Fig. 5. Left: Moële, a phalluses’ duel, 1905. Right: Koikawa ShozanPenis wrestling match”, ca. 1848, detail.


The satiric approach and surreal vision of the world, which Maële demonstrates in his images, also remind of the works by French surrealists like Roland Topor (1938-1997).

Fig. 6. Left: Maële, “The Neglected”, 1905. Right: Roland ToporTentative”, 1976.

Geese, Fowls, and Genitalia-men

With his etchings Maële proved he is a master of grotesque. The scene with a woman and phallus-headed geese may seem familiar to a lover of amusing shunga prints by Kanenari.

Fig. 7. Left: Moële, 1905. Center: Kanenari “Bankoku shinwa“, 1852. Right: Kanenari, a phallus-headed bird.

The etching depicting a phallus as a noble gentleman is close to images of Kuniyoshi or Kunisada.

Fig. 8. Left: Moële, “Don’t stay open, dear Baron”, 1905. Right: Kuniyoshi, Hitotsume kozô (four-eyed acolyte) from“Night Procession of the Hundred Demons”, 1830 (taken from kuniyoshiproject.com)


The print with a hydra-like headless creature satisfying a woman with its’ phallus-tentacles can’t not remind of Hokusai‘s most famous shunga picture with an ama-diver.

Fig. 9. Left: HokusaiThe Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” (c.1814). Right: Moële, 1905.


In some of his pictures Maële is even more grotesque than Japanese artists. For instance, he shows us a special trick with a head in vagina.

Fig. 10. Maële, “Ah you want to blow me. Miss J. as known as the Plunger”, 1905.

Exploring Infants

Teenage erotica, which often can be seen in shunga prints, is also depicted in the book of Maële. Kids explore their sexuality, touch themselves in front of each other, and play adult games.

Fig. 11. Left: Maële “Soldiers! .. No, we’re playing”, 1905. Right: “Experimenting infants” (c.1830) attributed to Kunisada.

Fig. 12. Maële, “Put your hand where it’s not right”, 1905.

Fig. 13. Maële, “Why do you not want to be a girl? Because I do not want to pee with nothing”, 1905.

Fig. 14. Maële, “Give me my six sous, I’m not playing anymore!”, 1905.

Rape Scenes

The set includes several depictions of rape performed by groups of males as well as by groups consisting of both genders. Some pictures demonstrate the rape of children. Images involving ropes and torture mechanisms could be inspired by de Sade.

Fig. 15. Maële, “Pants down!”, 1905.

Fig. 16. Maële, two workmen raping a maiden, 1905.

Fig. 17. Maële, a group of young men is raping a girl, 1905.

Fig. 18. Left: The 19th century engraving from the book “Marquis de Sade 100 erotic illustrations” (allthatsinteresting.com). Right: Maële, “A la Fragonard”, 1905.

Fig. 19. Maële,”Oh old bastard, I’ll give you some good sweets!”, 1905.

The scene with an inscription “You will see harder than that my girl!” is a western variation of Koikawa Shozan’s series on kamuro‘s initiation (fig. 20, 21).

Fig. 20. Maële, “You will see harder than that my girl!“, 1905.

Fig. 21. Koikawa Shozan “Kamuro sitting on top”, ca. 1860s.


The most shocking part of the book is the engravings depicting encounters with little girls, both alive and dead. The artist’s cynical sense of humor makes these images even more provocative. The image depicting mutual oral sex performed by a girl and her teacher (fig. 24) is already scandal enough, but together with an inscription it’s totally beyond good and evil.

Fig. 22. Maële, “Oh the big dirty one who doesn’t put on pants!”, 1905.

Fig. 23. Maële, “Where the liberty leads”, 1905.

Fig. 24. Maële, “Leave me alone, dirty cuckold!”, 1905.

Fig. 25. Maële, “What if Mummy came back? She’ll tell you that it’s very rude to talk with your mouth full”, 1905

Fig. 26. Maële, an adult man is preparing to rape the dead schoolgirl. Phallus-shaped bushes in the background create additional erotic tension. 

Below you can see some other images from “The Great Dance Macabre of Life”.

Fig. 27. Bard playing his instrument and singing a song devoted to the female ass. In the background you can see an emblem with three vulvas and a penis.

Fig. 28. A peasant woman copulating with a dog.

Fig. 29. “Presto agitato!

Fig. 30. “Results of the competition

Fig. 31. An aroused man is raping a milkmaid.

Fig. 32. The medieval king and his erected crowned penis.

Fig. 33. “So, you’ve been often at the brothel?

martin van maele crimes

Fig.34. ‘De sceleribus et criminibus (Of Crime and Criminals)‘ (1907)

donkey sex martin van maele

Fig.35. ‘Nude female with donkey‘ (michelkoven.wordpress.com)

martin van maele erotic


Click HERE for an article on the erotic work of Maële’s (alleged) mentor Félicien Rops….!!

Sources: Wikipedia.org, shungagallery.com, kuniyoshiproject.com, allthatsinteresting.com, “Shunga. Explicit art of Japan”, 2016. A. E. Pushakova, K. G. Danelya.

Pictures by Maële are taken from honesterotica.com

We would appreciate if you could advice us on topics concerning sensual art for future articles in the comment box below….!!