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Print - Messalina returning from the bath
  • Messalina returning from the bath
    Beardsley, Aubrey Vincent, born 1872 - died 1898
  • Enlarge image

Messalina returning from the bath

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (printed and published)

  • Date:

    1906 (printed and published)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Beardsley, Aubrey Vincent, born 1872 - died 1898 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Line-block print on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by an anonymous donor

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level E, case I, shelf 50, box G

The publisher Leonard Smithers was a brilliant but shady character who operated on the fringes of the rare book trade, issuing small, clandestine editions of risqué books with the boast: 'I will publish the things the others are afraid to touch'. Smithers encouraged Beardsley's interest in French, Latin and Greek texts of this kind and commissioned drawings to illustrate Aristophanes's famously bawdy satirical play Lysistrata and the Satires of the late Roman poet Juvenal. Beardsley made a number of drawings which illustrate Juvenal's misogynistic Sixth Satire, 'Against Woman'.

Juvenal cites the Empress Messalina as an exemplar of feminine lust and degeneracy, describing her nightly visits to the stews of ancient Rome where she posed as a prostitute in order to indulge her desires. In an earlier drawing of 1895 Beardsley had depicted her leaving the palace, disguised and attended only by a maid. In this second and more powerful treatment of the subject, he chose to illustrate the lines in which the poet describes Messalina returning to the palace, angry that her lusts remain unsatisfied.

Physical description

Print of a woman dressed in a loose gown, her breasts exposed, climbing a baroque staircase.

Place of Origin

London (printed and published)


1906 (printed and published)


Beardsley, Aubrey Vincent, born 1872 - died 1898 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Line-block print on paper

Marks and inscriptions

lettered: MESSALINA


Height: 175 mm image, Width: 142 mm image, Height: 279 mm sheet, Width: 219 mm sheet

Object history note

Illustration for the Sixth Satire of Juvenal, published in An Issue of Five Drawings illustrative of Juvenal and Lucian, Leonard Smithers, London, 1906.

Descriptive line

Print by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898). 'Messalina returning from the bath', 1906.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Brian Reade, Aubrey Beardsley, London, 1967, Cat. no. 483 (the original drawing),

Mark Samuels Lasner, A Selective Check-list of the published work of Aubrey Beardsley, Boston USA, 1995, no.149,

Stephen Calloway, Aubrey Beardsley, London, 1998, pp.179-80.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1945, London: HMSO, 1956.


Paper (fiber product); Printing ink



Subjects depicted

Stairs; Breasts; Lust; Slippers


Prints; Illustration


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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