Les sataniques (The Satanic Images), a set of five burnished heliogravures originally produced in a folder in a very small edition, is one of Rops’ best-known works, and thanks to the work of the colourist Albert Bertrand the colour versions made in the 1890s are even better known than the original monochrome engravings.
The images comprising Les sataniques are truly arresting, and in both subject and treatment seem decades ahead of their time. The frontispiece engraving, ‘Satan semant l’ivrai’ (‘Satan sowing weeds’) depicts an immense skeletal figure striding over sleeping Paris, scattering maggot-like bodies. ‘L’enlevement’ (‘The abduction’) shows a flying witch being attached by a devil, who is using the end of her broomstick to penetrate her cunt. In the third engraving, ‘La sacrifice’ (‘The sacrifice’) the woman ends her time on earth in the company of the devil-goat’s massive penis, while in ‘L’idole’ (‘The idol’) another woman is penetrated, this time by a wooden idol, with an erect ejaculating penis pillar on either side and (in the monochrome version) a self-masturbating elephant. Finally in ‘La Calvaire’ (‘Calvary’) the crucified devil, penis erect, slowly strangles his victim with her own hair.
By any account these are shocking images, and it is entirely understandable why Rops, while undoubtedly an artistic genius, was considered an evil influence even by many in liberal fin-de-siècle Paris.