Messalina was the wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius, and was noted for her sexual appetite and depravity. At night she would leave the Imperial palace to voluntarily work in a brothel, a journey which Beardsley depicts here. The design was produced for an edition of Juvenal's 'Sixth Satire', published by Leonard Smithers. Smithers published a succession of erotic material in the 1890s, some of it illustrated by Beardsley. Previously refuted or ignored, the female libido was very much a topic of quasi-scientific and religious debate in the 1890s, when opinion began to acknowledge it for the first time. This coincided with the beginnings of a reconsideration of women's status in society.