This stylish girl-washing photo exploded all over Tumblr more than a decade ago. The BDSM set especially loved it. It’s ambiguous, but in a delicious way:

man in a suit helps a naked beauty take a bath

Is our besuited man a stuffy old-fashioned butler? A loving but very busy husband, stopped by his young wife’s boudoir between important meetings? Husband or not, perhaps he’s her wealthy and attentive submissive? Or maybe she is his submissive, well-kept to the point of being a wee bit spoiled? Whimsical captions and imagined contexts proliferated. But nobody had, or cared to share, the photo’s actual provenance. When it recently percolated to the top of my queue of interesting blog-fodder, I immediately suspected it of being from a fashion magazine. That guess turns out to be about half right, but proving it took a lot of research. I do these things for you, dear readers and treasured patrons, and also for me.

Luminary sex-blogger Violet Blue shared the photo, while expressing misgivings about the sorry state of Tumblr attributions, in November of 2009. Although the actual image is gone from her blog now, her discussion of it remains:

I recently discovered danae’s exquisite tumbleblog, “kinda like a blog but with short-form, mixed-media posts with stuff I like.” What I like about it, besides the fantastic curation of sexually explicit images (with a strong accent on female submission, of course), is that whenever possible danae credits the photo source. That’s really important to me. But that’s always a ridiculous hope with Tumblr blogs — which is why I seldom post about them. This one’s exceptional.

In 2009 both Danae and Violet sourced the photo to its “patient zero” appearance on Tumblr, which doesn’t help me, in 2021, in my quest for real provenance. Fortunately, I was able to find some information scattered across a handful of nearly-defunct websites. When I chased it all the way back to the source, the photo turns out to have appeared as part of a spread in Deliciae Vitae #3, a magazine from 2003. If you have never heard of Deliciae Vitae, you might be forgiven; it was an annual, and there were only ever three issues. Copies, if you can find them, sell on eBay for upwards of $200. I scraped the following explanation of the project from an old broken fashion site, where DV’s editor-in-chief Kinder Aggugine had this to say:

In 1983, aged 18, I approached one of Europe’s leading publishers of adult material with my idea for a stylishly superior men’s publication. I knew there was a market for an international magazine that was classy, luxurious and sexy but which was fundamentally not about porn. I mean if that’s all you want you can get it anywhere, right? They laughed me out of the building…

Another 18 years on, the culture of photography and publishing has come a very long way. Having worked as a fashion designer for much of the intervening period I’ve been struck how much fashion, and particularly fashion photographers have embraced sex and sexuality in advertising and editorial fashion shoots for men and women.

Ultimately, as the fashion industry knows very well, it’s the image — the way someone (or something) is photographed — that makes them desirable. The medium — as they say — is the message. Which explains why certain fashion photographers have become as famous as film directors.

Deliciae Vitae is an independent bi-annual publication, of deliberate, unashamedly luxurious excess. Autonomous and unconstrained in a world of ever more increasing conglomerate fashion. Beautiful women from across the globe are photographed by the very best fashion and art photographers to give pleasure to the most sophisticated of palates. But such sophistication is indulged just as much by fine writing. So look out for features on the eternal sexual chemistry of champagne, the elitist joys of supersonic travel or the return of the ultimate pop playboy Bryan Ferry. Deliciae Vitae is not meant to appeal to everyone. But then, you’re not everyone, are you?

Issue 3 of Delicia Vitae featured a digitally sliced-up Naomi Campbell on the cover:

Deliciae Vitae magazine cover Issue #3 2003

Inside, readers found a lengthy spread by photographer Giampaolo Sgura starring Eva Riccobono and titled Pictorial #8: Attendant (Upstairs And Downstairs And In My Lady’s Chamber). The spread included an 8-photograph bathing sequence which is worth reproducing in full, especially as it took a lot of scraping through busted malware-loading celeb and porn sites to reassemble:

eva riccobono lets her attendant help her undress for a bath

perched half-nude on the edge of the clawfoot bathtub

a butler to help remove her panties

standing in the bathtub to show off her tits

every girl needs a man in a suit and a tie to help scrub her front in the bathtub

bath tub hair washing assistance from the sexy man in the suit and tie

a spritz of perfume or cologne for milady and her perfect air dried breasts

combing her wet hair like a good boy

Well, that turned out to be a journey that was worth the search for a map. Wasn’t it?

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