Bernini’s Teresa leans back euphorically and opens her mouth as an angel lifts her robes and points an arrow towards not her heart, but her loins.
Similarly, in around 1700, Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari used the biblical story of Bathsheba as a means to paint not one but two womens’ bare breasts—one belongs to Bathsheba, the other to her maid whose gown falls off her shoulder as she washes her lady’s foot.
Other allusions to desire are concealed in the objects that decorate narrative scenes. Renaissance painter
doesn’t sexualize his depiction of Mercury in his Villa Farnesina fresco, for instance. (The god wears a goofy smile and his penis is flaccid.) Rather, he charges the bouquet of fruit that Mercury points to with sexual symbolism. The decorative garlands that separate each figure were painted by Raphael’s contemporary Giovanni da Udine.
The garland closest to Mercury’s hand cradles a fig so swollen that its juices are erupting. Next to it is a gourd that can only be described as large and turgid.
Giorgio Vasari, the biographer of many Italian Renaissance artists, would later allude to this metaphor: “Above the flying figure of Mercury, he fashioned a Priapus from a gourd and two eggplants for testicles … while nearby he painted a cluster of large figs, one of which, overripe and bursting open, is penetrated by the gourd.”