History of the Dominatrix
Timeline of dominatrix history & arts
A Hymn to Inanna (Goddess of sex and warrioress powers) in ancient Mesopotamia has her demonstrating her powers with ritual involving gender transformation, punishment, moaning, pain and ecstasy. The words are written or recrafted by Enheduanna, a high priestess and daughter of King Sargon, and the world's first recorded author in human history. The hymn is referred to as "Lady of the Largest Heart" or as "Hymn to Inana C", with the ritual in lines 80-90.
The Goddess Inanna (also Ishtar in Akkadian) is associated with gender transformation and with priest-priestess officiants kurgarra, assinu and pilipili - people of third gender identity. A hymn to Inanna records "the power to turn man into woman and woman into man are yours Inanna, your powers". A fragment shoulder from a sculpture in the British Museum (#118073) is inscribed "I am Silimabzuta man-woman-person of Inanna".
A ritual called the diamastigosis (flagellation) was performed on young men known as "ephebes" in Sparta, in honour of the Goddess Artemis Orthia. The ceremony was an initiation, described by the historian Pausanias: "by them stands the priestess, holding a wooden image. Now it is small and light, but if the scourgers spare the lash because of a lad's beauty or high rank, then at once the priestess finds the image grow so heavy that she can hardly carry it. She lays blame on the scourgers, and says it is their fault that she is being weighed down..."
At Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, Italy, a wall fresco painting uncovered buried within the ashes of Mt Vesuvius erupting in 79 CE depicts a magnificent winged woman, topless wearing a short skirt and high boots, dramatically wielding a whip. She brings this down on a female initiate, as part of an initiation ritual.
In the medieval period, the story of Phyllis dominating Aristotle came into popular literature and imagery. Phyllis was the paramour of Alexander the Great. In the medieval (fictional) story, Phyllis is spurned by her lover Alexander on advice of the philosopher Aristotle, she exacts revenge on Aristotle by having him come to her chamber crawling on hand and foot, in order that she may ride him like a horse. The image would become one of a number on the "power of woman" theme in European art.
An epigram by John Davies titled "In Francum" (1590s) recalls Francus sending for rods and stripping himself naked, while Shadwell's "Virtuoso" (1676) recounting a man visiting a School-Mistress who keeps a school for the disciplining of hopeful towardly Old Gentlemen. Troth's Knavery of Astrology (1680) discussing the invention of the term "flogging" at specialist establishments including Betty B___'s School. The oldest erotic print in the British Museum is a mezzotint of The Cully Flaug'd (c1674-1702), of a woman flogging a man in an erotic setting.
The book Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (also known as Fanny Hill) by John Cleland was published, featuring a bondage and flagellation "switch scene" between Fanny Hill and Mr Barville: "Seizing one of the rods, I stood over him, according to his direction, gave him, in one breath, ten lashes with much goodwill and the utmost nerve and vigour of arm that I could put to them, so as to make those fleshy orbs quiver again under them." The author and publisher were arrested and charged, and the book withdrawn from print, and circulated as a forbidden book, added to by other flagellation books of the era.
An engraving titled Flagellation (1752) made in London and which found its way to the Library of Congress USA features a woman playing the role of School-Mistress and executing a flogging with birch rod of a "remarkably well known" elderly gentleman receiving punishment as if he was a naughty school boy. A book of the era titled Fashionable Lectures (c1761) lists the names of 57 women offering birch discipline and accompanied by Dominant roleplay ideas.
No less than 20 splendid establishments are documented as existing at the beginning of the 19th Century in London alone, specializing in flagellation practices. Mary Wilson writes of long apprenticeships and specialization: "They must have a quick and intuitive method of understanding the aberrations of the human mind, and be ready and willing to humour and relieve them." The most famous of the era Governess Theresa Berkley, whose extensive equipment was documented and included the Berkley Horse invented in the 1828, and her clients were noted as being amongst the most well-known in the land.
The author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch writes fictional works featuring female Dominants, beginning with The Emissary: A Tale of Galicia (in German: Der Emissär, 1863) and culminating in the famous Venus in Furs (in German: Venus Im Pelz, 1870). He wrote of his inspiration: "...strange scenes, other figures, in regal ermine, in bourgeois rabbit fur or in rustic lamb's fleece, produced new sensations on me; until one day this particular type of woman became crystalised in my mind, and took definite shape for the first time in the heroine of The Emissary".
The female flagellant specialists in Paris advertise in the local newspapers by way of carefully worded advertisements seeking submissive gentlemen to whom they will receive homage and act as a Mistress Absolute, with clients to go to 27, Passage de l'Opera. A remarkable letter from one Alice Villefranche to her slave (c1897) is preserved in the Philosophy of Flagellation: "On your knees, as soon as you enter, you will thank me for the honour I do to receive you as a slave, and get ready to suffer, and prepare to undergo, without the slightest gesture or word of revolt, all the trials or you will sink (collapse), under my will, your famous dignity of man..."
Czech photographers Jacques and Charles Biederer immigrated to Paris developed fetish photography in a discreet workshop named Ostra studio during 1920s-30s, featuring dancers and prostitutes posing with whips, chains, lingerie, stockings, shoes and boots. Nativa Richards who went by the alter-ego name Miss Helios, posed dominantly in fetish attire for the clothing and costume company Yva Richards that she ran with her husband. Over in Germany, Hans Rehfeld also produced very innovative fetish imagery. The material circulated widely, including in the USA through Charles Guyette who ran a mail order store.
The European fetish imagery inspired and influenced artists such as John Willie (John Coutts), who published Bizarre Magazine (1946-59) which also featured a cartoon of a damsel-in-distress 'Sweet Gwendoline', and a secret agent in Dominatrix role named U69. Leonard 'Lenny' Burtman featured photographs of Tana Louise in a Dominatrix role and Bettie Page, while artwork was contributed by Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew (as ENEG, Gene spelt backwards).
Rare dog-eared photographs survive of real Mistresses of the 1950s-60s era who worked in a very secretive and underground fashion due to social stigma and the grey nature of the law around their work. In London the most famous Dominatrix was Miss Doreen who worked under a number of alter-ego names, and her clients included top politicians and businessmen who she sent for French made and bizarre leather attire to John Sutcliffe, who also made a famous catsuit for lifestyle Mistress Anne of Kent. In New York Anne Lawrence operated in Upper Manhattan, friends with Jean Fischer, and Monique Von Cleef arrived.
On 23rd December 1965, a few days before Christmas, Dominatrix Monique von Cleef was targeted by an operation with the police in cahoots with postal agents focused on obscenity sent by mail. She was arrested,with photographs of policemen posing with her whips and suspension system were sent to the press, and splashed all over the front page of newspapers across the USA. The FBI hauled away 4,500 pieces of correspondence and private photographs. Von Cleef would later win, with the Court of Appeal finding the police abused their powers.
The Hague in the Netherlands was one of the major centres for Dominatrices in Europe. Monique von Cleef moved there and set up her "House of Pain", located down the road from the Peace Palace, training many women by long apprenticeship in the craft. The other well-known place in Europe was the Herbertstraße in St Pauli district in Hamburg Germany. The Dominatrices appeared in their window in head-to-toe leather, thigh high boots and severe expression, amongst them were Brita Schmerse, Red Lola, Mistress Gaby and the mysterious masked Nicole de Carje who was a university student by day.
The most famous house in Australia, Salon Kitty's opened in 1985 where it operated 28 years, and trained some of the country's top Dominatrices in apprenticeships described as long, rigorous and hard, but also "second to none". Some later travelled overseas and made a strong impact wherever they landed.
With Dominatrices existing in a grey area of the law in many places, as well as the social taboo of their work, meaning that many work secretively and discreetly, operating "between the cracks". A series of C-type portraits of London's most famous Dominatrices is produced by Kate Peters, called "Yes Mistress", drawing them out of their secretive dungeons and putting them under the bright light in her white photographic studio. Over in Manhattan, another artist Natasha Gornik takes the taboo for a walk, accompanying a Dominatrix and her slave both in full fetish attire - for a stroll through Times Square.
Anne O Nomis takes four years to undertake her research into the Dominatrix, including a one year internship in 2009 as a "switch" learning Dominance and submission, practice in multiple countries, research in the British Museum and British Library, private collections and fetish underground, made difficult by materials not being archived as such. She travels to Hanoi Vietnam where she spends 3 months full-time writing to complete the work, and it comes out in December 2013. The book is well-received by peer review, fetish magazines and Library Journal Review, and becomes "the book" in the world on the topic of the Dominatrix's history and craft arts.
Anne O Nomis
Anne O Nomis is a specialist in Dominance studies, history and arts, and Ki™ framework hyperarousal responses to “thewen” force power. She authored The History & Arts of the Dominatrix, undertaking original research in museums, libraries and underground sources, and holds a Masters degree in Comparative Art and Archaeology from UCL (University College London). She is founder and teacher of Villa Domme, taught annually in a villa or castle since 2018.