A Dantan illustration from Poèmes susceptible by Pierre-Abel Hauvette, 1959

The Cantique des cantiques (Song of Songs) is a favourite subject of erotic artists, probably because it is the most erotic section of one of the world’s best-known books, The Holy Bible. In particular it is Chapter 7, with its overtly sexual invitation, and the positive response of the beloved, which provides ample opportunity for artistic interpretation.

Dantan used a free interpretation of the chapter, given below in his French and in English translation, as a vehicle for a loose set of prints contained in an unprinted box, or étui. The drawings show two lovers in a wide range of sexual encounters, and display both real skill in figure drawing and an honest portrayal of shared physical passion.

Cantique des cantiques, 7

Que tu es belle, que tu es agréable,
O mon amour, au milieu des délices!
Ta taille ressemble au palmier,
Et tes seins à des grappes.
Je me dis: Je monterai sur le palmier,
J’en saisirai les rameaux!
Que tes seins soient comme les grappes de la vigne,
Le parfum de ton souffle comme celui des pommes,
Et ta bouche comme un vin excellent
Qui coule aisément pour mon bien-aimé,
Et glisse sur les lèvres de ceux qui s’endorment!

Je suis à mon bien-aimé,
Et ses désirs se portent vers moi.
Viens, mon bien-aimé, sortons dans les champs,
Demeurons dans les villages!
Dès le matin nous irons aux vignes,
Nous verrons si la vigne pousse, si la fleur s’ouvre,
Si les grenadiers fleurissent.
Là je te donnerai mon amour.
Les mandragores répandent leur parfum,
Et nous avons à nos portes tous les meilleurs fruits,
Nouveaux et anciens.
Mon bien-aimé, je les ai gardés pour toi.

Song of Songs, 7

How beautiful thou art, how agreeable,
O my love, in the midst of delights!
Your body is like a palm tree,
And your breasts cluster upon it.
I say to myself: I will climb the palm tree,
I will climb its branches!
May your breasts be like the grapes of the vine,
The scent of your breath like that of apples,
And your mouth like an excellent wine
Which flows easily from my beloved,
And moistens the lips of those who fall asleep!

I am here for my beloved,
And his desires are turned towards me.
Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields,
Or let us remain in the villages!
In the morning we will go to the vineyards,
We will see if the vine grows, if the flower opens,
If the pomegranates bloom.
There I will give you my love.
Mandrakes spread their scent,
And we have at our door all the sweetest of fruit,
New and old.
My beloved, I have kept them all for you.

Dantan’s Cantique des cantiques was produced in a limited numbered edition of 100 copies.