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]

Show Off Your Love of Art With a Frida Kahlo Action Figure

Frida Kahlo Action Figure
Frida Kahlo Action Figure
Today is Art Day

If you're in the market for an action figure based on a real person, you've got plenty to choose from: Everyone from Snoop Dogg to the Pope is getting their own figurine these days. Now, Frida Kahlo has joined the ranks of icons who have become immortalized in plastic.

In 2017, Canadian art website Today Is Art Day (known for its Vincent van Gogh action figure) started a Kickstarter to give Kahlo the action figure treatment. The toy features the artist with a monkey pal on her shoulder, as well as a detachable heart and the faint smell of roses. The packaging has fun facts about the artist, along with some miniature artwork that can be cut out and affixed to a miniature easel.

“Not that I don’t like the great books and reproductions of artworks but, I think it’s more engaging to have a Frida Kahlo action figure on your desk rather than an art history book on your shelf," ‘Today Is Art Day’ founder David Beaulieu told Lost at E Minor during the Kickstarter campaign.

The Frida action figure is available on Amazon for $30.

Frida Kahlo Action Figure

Frida Kahlo Action Figure

[h/t Lost at E Minor]

A version of this article first ran in 2017. It has been updated to reflect current availability.

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Rare Audio Clip of Frida Kahlo Discovered in Mexican Sound Library

Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Even if they're not experts in art, many people are familiar with Frida Kahlo's most famous paintings. The Mexican artist's style, quotes, and artwork are still iconic 65 years after her death, but few people know what she sounded like. As CNN reports, the National Sound Library of Mexico recently announced the discovery of what could be the only surviving recording of her voice.

The clip comes from the 1955 pilot of the radio show El Bachiller. The episode profiles Diego Rivera, a muralist and Kahlo's on-again-off-again husband. In one section, Kahlo can be heard reciting a text entitled "Portrait of Diego" that poetically describes the appearance and temperament of her spouse.

Kahlo had already died when the episode aired, and the radio show notes that the voice being broadcast belongs to a painter "who no longer exists." The original recording of her voice likely dates back to 1954 or 1953 (she died in July 1954).

In a press release, the director of the National Sound Library of Mexico Pável Granados said that audio of Frida Kahlo is one of the most common requests they receive. The authenticity of the tape has yet to be confirmed, and authorities are currently investigating to see if the voice in the recording really belonged to the artist.

Surviving audio of Kahlo may be rare, but the painter left behind many artworks and writings that paint a rich picture of her life. Here are some facts about the icon.

[h/t CNN]

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