Dreams of Desire 23 (Elle)

Elle-Gustav Adolphe-Mossa 1905
A delirious summation of late Decadent motifs and misogyny, Mossa’s Elle presents a vision of the cosmic and mythological femme fatale. A gigantic female figure, Elle, whose baby doll face contrasts sharply with the full sensuous body sits provocatively atop a mountain of predominantly male corpses and bodies. The only colouration on her pale skin is the tiny hand prints of blood left on her fleshy thighs by her doomed victims. Her shadowed gaze is seductively direct beneath the three skulls she sports in her hairdo, watched over by two ill-omened ravens.

A potent if somewhat tawdry (but the Symbolists were never very restrained) combination of Biblical and mythological references, Elle could represent the apocalyptic Whore of Babylon or is maybe an allusion to the Valkyries of Norse Mythology (Wagner was the favourite composer of the Symbolists). The Valkyries would choose half the slain of the battlefield to come to Valhalla in preparation for Ragnarok (or Gotterdammerung in German, the twilight of the gods). Ravens were a bird considered sacred and intimately connected to Odin the All-Father who was always accompanied by two named Huginn and Muginn (Thought and Memory).