This is a straight lift from Lewis Mumford’s book The Condition of Man, beginning on page 210. This book has been an education for me.
The transformation of woman from a working partner into a sexual free-lance and from a distantly worshipped ideal into a more tangible divinity, disrobed and ready for play, came about through an increase of idleness and luxury; so it is a story that belongs mainly to the upper classes. But the change was not without democratic significance by reason of what has followed. For a profound modification of sex, love, and parenthood took place between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century.
The great theme of art, during the post-medieval period, was the celebration and enjoyment of women. The courtesan not merely became the principal luxury of the market: she was the very reason for that vast process of spoliation and conquest which ultimately brought into the boudoir carved mirrors, sparkly jewels, heady perfumes, cosmetics, silks, brocades, and the gold wherewith more could be bought…She became the very symbol of expensive sensuous refinement and glowing vitality.
In the fifteenth century one of the first manifestations of the growth of luxury was the private bedroom: a room devoted exclusively to love-making and sleep, without the constant threat of interruptions and intrusions…
Stimulated no doubt by the images of antiquity, the painter began to draw from the living model. Alone with her in the studio, he looks upon her for hours at a time, catches the sheen of her hair, the satiny surface of her skin, observes the swell of her breasts and the curve of her belly…
And what happens to woman? In her coy disrobing, in her frank exposure of herself, woman in turn feels her power: her power to withhold and to give. By the grace of postponement she becomes more fully roused, and when the erotic mood at last brings her lover close, she becomes more deeply fulfilled.
This is the language of direct personal relationships. In our time this has been replaced by simulated relationships, which people prefer because they are safer.