A striking erotic photograph by Derrick Santini called “a fool for love”, which is a modern depiction of the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan on display at Ronnie Woods’s sons gallery Scream in Bruton Street London caused a stir last Saturday – not for any of the art gallery visitors, but a police officer passing by on a bus who spotted the reclining Leda being seduced or raped by the Swan.
The officer called two other officers to the gallery to discuss the photograph and required it to be taken down. One can almost visualise the scene in all of its comedic glory with the gallery sales director explaining Greek mythology to a disbelieving Met officer. (“He did what sir? Right sir, well if you could put us in touch with this Mr Zeus, we may want to have a word with him. . .”)
The art work was thought to be condoning bestiality, which is a criminal offence. The officers were apparently unaware of the myth.
In the myth, Zeus takes the form of the swan and rapes or seduces Leda, according to some versions, the same night she slept with her husband, King Tyndareus. The rape led to Leda giving birth to two children, Polydeuces and Helen of Troy.
Perhaps this could be an offence under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 under which a publication of a depiction of a sexual act with an animal is obscene.
Although this artwork is arguably not obscene and no more obscene than any other depictions of this famous subject, it is clearly not intending to deprave or corrupt and is an expression of art.
For poetry lovers, it was the subject of Yeats’s famous poem.
For art lovers, this mythological depiction was a popular classicizing theme in Renaissance Italy, with erotic tones. For instance, see the paintings by Leonardo da Vinci’s pupils Cesare Sesto (at Wilton House) and Leda Melzi (Uffizi Florence) who painted versions after the lost Leonardo work and see also a 16th Century copy of the lost Michelangelo painting in the National Gallery.
To see the photograph, it was published in the Evening Standard and the Telegraph – these publishers clearly do not regard the image as obscene.
I think Zeus will get what he wants in the end. Didn’t he always?