Of course, not all orientalist erotic painting is about race. Partly, it was about Victorian rules about nudity. You could show naked women in a “classical” setting, or you could paint naked women in some other culture, some far-away place.
This painting, for example, is of Angelica chained to a rock, from a scene in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. So if you wanted to do an image of a bound, naked woman, you could do a painting of Angelica or of Andromeda (naked and bound in very similar circumstances), and present your bondage pic as high art.
But if a Victorian painter made a picture of a naked woman with her hands tied behind her back, waiting for her lover, in a Victorian house, Victorian critics would have lost their shit on a scale that would make Nick Cage’s acting look minimalist.
The woman would have been called a whore, the subject would be damned as utterly indecent and perverted, the painting would certainly be banned from display, and the painter quite possibly prosecuted. So there is a reason apart from racism for Victorian painters to place their pictures of captive, naked women in Eastern, generally Mid-Eastern, settings.
But a lot seems to rest on the idea that slavery, or being naked and inspected by clothed men, is more intense when the woman is white and the men are not. It’s interesting that there aren’t more examples, in Victorian bondage painting, of naked black women being inspected by clothed white men. Maybe it was too close to home, in a century where the British had been supporting the slave-owning states in the US Civil War.
Maybe Victorian painters thought their audiences wouldn’t find naked black women as sexy as naked white women.
I’m still working. The Probation Officer story will proceed shortly.