Why Aren’t Classical Statues Very Well-Endowed?

iStock
iStock

If you spend enough time with classical statuary, you may begin to ask yourself some questions that seem more appropriate to middle school health class than an art history discussion. Namely: Is it just me, or are all these dudes kind of … small?

I’m not the only one who’s wondered at the ancient penis sizes depicted in art. Even while assuming that most statues feature flaccid penises, why wouldn’t classic sculptors have made their subjects more well-endowed? Surely nude sculpture is as subject to exaggeration on this topic as locker room talk.

As it turns out, a lot has changed over the last few thousand years, including how we think about penis size. Ellen Oredsson of the blog How to Talk About Art History explains in one post that “cultural values about male beauty were completely different back then. Today, big penises are seen as valuable and manly, but back then, most evidence points to the fact that small penises were considered better than big ones.”

Photographer Ingrid Berthon-Moine, who took close-up photos of the testicles of Greek statues as part of her 2013 series "Marbles," reiterated this sentiment in an interview about her photos with Hyperallergic. “Ancient Greece was a highly masculinist culture,” she explained. “They favored ‘small and taut’ genitals, as opposed to big sex organs, to show male self-control in matters of sexuality.” In his play The Clouds, one of Aristophanes's characters describes the ideal male form as having “good chest, a clear complexion, broad shoulders, a moderate tongue, sturdy buttocks, and a small genteel penis.”

But it was important to show some skin. As art historian Anna Tahinci wrote in a 2008 article in the journal Sculpture Review, nudity was “seen as the ‘perfect form’ for the sculptural representation of the human body” in ancient Greece and, later, Rome. “Consequently, nudity in sculpture came to represent the ideals of innocence and purity.”

Frederick M. Hodges, a scholar who writes about circumcision, noted in a medical history journal in 2001 that “the Greeks valued the longer over the shorter prepuce [foreskin] in relation to the length of the entire penis, and the smaller over the larger penis as a whole.” Indeed, an elongated foreskin was considered both attractive and more modest than an exposed penis (ancient Greeks considered circumcision barbaric and associated it with slaves). An erect, bare penis would have been considered dishonorable, according to his research, and thus, in most art, the male genitals are featured “unretracted, teat-like, and neatly tapered.”

Another scholar finds that while Greek men were shown to have properly dainty genitals in public, they often have “rakishly protuberant phalluses in private,” as seen in erotic art, especially on vases. In the 1995 article “The Unheroic Penis: Otherness Exposed,” Timothy McNiven chalks this up to giving men portrayed in art “the best of both worlds."

Big or small—or even removable—a statue's genitals are a sign of the times.

[h/t Jad Abumrad]

Lost Sketches From The Little Prince Have Been Discovered in Switzerland

Oleksandr Samolyk, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Oleksandr Samolyk, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, published in 1943, has long been regarded as one of the most compelling books of the 20th century. Drawing upon Saint-Exupéry's own experiences in aviation, the book tells the tale of a pilot who crashes in the Sahara and befriends a little boy who claims to have come from outer space. The book is accompanied by a number of illustrations by Saint-Exupéry. Now, Smithsonian reports that some of the original preparatory sketches have surfaced.

According to France24.com, the sketches—of the titular Little Prince chatting with a fox, a boa constrictor devouring an elephant, and a character called the Tippler—were purchased at auction in 1986 by an art collector named Bruno Stefanini, who tucked them away in a folder. When Stefanini passed away in December 2018, the artwork—drawn on airmail paper—was uncovered by workers at his non-profit Foundation for Art, Culture, and History in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Aviator and 'The Little Prince' author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is photographed inside of an airplane cockpit in 1935
Aviator and The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1935.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The organization intends to share its findings with the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which currently houses the original book manuscript (including drafts of the book's most famous phrase, "What is essential is invisible to the eye") and 35 other sketches.

The Stefanini collection also includes a particularly personal piece of material. One of the sketches includes a love letter made out to Saint-Exupéry's wife while the pilot was in New York in 1942 following Germany’s invasion of France. It was there he wrote The Little Prince, which was published the following year. In 1944, Saint-Exupéry was shot down by a German pilot over the Mediterranean.

[h/t Smithsonian]

The Definition of Museum Could Be Changing

The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
roman_slavik/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve always casually defined museum as “a place to see art or historical objects,” you’re not necessarily wrong. But the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has a more specific, official guideline that defines a museum as “a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study, and enjoyment.”

ICOM’s 40,000 members have been adhering to this definition for almost 50 years to represent more than 20,000 museums around the world. Now, The Art Newspaper reports, some members want to change it.

On July 22, the organization’s executive board convened in Paris and composed a new definition that Danish curator Jette Sandahl believes better suits the demands of “cultural democracy.” By this updated description, a museum must “acknowledg[e] and addres[s] the conflicts and challenges of the present,” “work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world,” and “contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality, and planetary wellbeing.”

The proposal immediately elicited harsh reactions from a number of other members of the museum community, who felt the text was too ideological and vague. François Mairesse, a professor at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle and the chair of the International Committee of Museology, even resigned from the revisory commission—led by Sandahl—earlier this summer when he realized the new definition wasn’t, by his standards, really a definition. “This is not a definition but a statement of fashionable values, much too complicated and partly aberrant,” he told The Art Newspaper. “It would be disastrous to impose only one type of museum.”

The current plan is for ICOM members to vote on the definition at the general assembly on September 7 in Kyoto, Japan, but 24 national branches and five museums’ international committees have petitioned to postpone the vote—they’d like some time to create their own definition for museum and present it as a counter-proposal.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

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