Artists often drew on ‘evil’ women from the Bible, history and mythology.
Henri-Gabriel Ibels, for instance, made a print of Mary Magdalene. Eve dragged Adam into the Fall by disobeying God’s instructions and taking a bite from the apple.
Columbina – a character from the 17th-century Commedia del’Arte – was another favourite subject of printmakers. Time and again, she wound her admirer Pierrot around her finger, only to reject him cruelly in favour of his rival, Harlequin.
The femme fatale depicted by printmakers could also be drawn from the real world: the prostitute was often depicted as the ultimate seducer and destroyer of men, as were mistresses, who used their sexuality to ruin their wealthier lovers physically and materially.
These images of the femme fatale express not only a fascination for women, but also an unmistakable fear of them as they began to demand a place of their own in fin-de-siècle society.
Virginia M. Allen, The Femme Fatale. Erotic Icon, New York 1983
Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity. Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture, New York 1986
Anne Brokken et al., Femme fatale. Tussen liefde en dood, Sint-Niklaas 1992