'Though it may seem self-evident, the end of antiquity marks a clear dividing line, with an overall redefinition of moral values and attitudes prompted by Christianity and a complete lack of ‘erotic’ visual material from the Early Middle Ages. This gap, which is not solely the result of early medieval reticence, is filled by the Indian Art that was then flourishing. In later Western art, references to classical mythology and biblical accounts increasingly provided artists with effective means of painting and sculpting seductive bodies and unquestionably erotic scenes without incurring the condemnation and censorship of the Church or secular authorities. Generally speaking, subjects such as the female nude became acceptable if couched in a mythological context or if they served to illustrate a morally edifying episode. Only when artists began to depict actual people did scandal erupt - as occurred with Manet’s Olympia.
Since the Middle Ages, most paintings and sculptures on erotic themes have been directed at and interpreted by the male gaze: they are meant to attract heterosexual males and stimulate their fantasies. This reflects the fact that for long time both the artists and the overwhelming majority of the patrons were men. Consequently, the female nude dominates. When sexual organ are depicted - a cause for controversy and scandal - they are appear innocent, neutral. Once images shift towards what may be perceived as pornography (illustrations for the Marquis de Sade’s novels, for example), the sexual act and male genitalia are represented, but still in situations solely in Western art after the rise of Christianity; it typifies classical and non-European erotic art - from Pre-Columbian civilizations to well-known Indian, Chinese and Japanese works - which had great influence on European culture from the 19th century onwards.'
Flavio Febbraro, How to Read Erotic Art, publisher: Ludion