Art of the penis

(Obviously, there will be a lot of dick talk here, but of the art-historical and art-critical variety, rather than the sexual-arousal variety.)

On Facebook, art historian Reuben Cordova writes:

I’m giving a lecture: “The Penis in Art. A Short History, From the Greeks to Today.” Any suggestions?

and offers as an example this ancient Greek vase with the image of a naked woman carrying a gigantic penis on it:


(Such images appear to fall under the Fine Art Exemption for body display on Facebook, and presumably Google+ and WordPress as well. The point presumably being that the penis images on display are not of actual human bodyparts, but are fantasy creations.)

Naked men are all over ancient Greek art, and ancient Roman art as well. A few more examples, then a pile of links on this blog and AZBlogX to phallic art, and a sampling of modern penis art not already covered in my blogs.

A note on Cordova. From his author page:

Ruben C. Cordova is an art historian, curator, and photographer. He holds a BA from Brown University (Semiotics) and a PhD from UC Berkeley (History of Art). Cordova has taught courses treating Art History, Film, and Museum Studies at UC Berkeley, UT Pan American, UT San Antonio, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of Houston. He has curated or co-curated more than 20 exhibitions featuring Latin American, Latino, and Chicano Art. As a photographer, his primary interest is Day of the Dead and his work has been featured in 40 exhibitions. … His future books will treat the artist Mel Casas, Day of the Dead in Mexico and the US, and Frida Kahlo.

The glories of Greece. These include herms (or hermai) like these:


Archaic herma of Hermes


Herm with an inscription linking it to the Hermes Propylaios by Alcamenes

From Wikipedia:

A herma (Ancient Greek: ἑρμῆς, pl. ἑρμαῖ hermai), commonly in English herm, is a sculpture with a head, and perhaps a torso, above a plain, usually squared lower section, on which male genitals may also be carved at the appropriate height. The form originated in Ancient Greece, and was adopted by the Romans, and revived at the Renaissance

… In ancient Greece the statues had an apotropaic [‘supposedly having the power to avert evil influences or bad luck’ (NOAD2)] function and were placed at crossings, country borders and boundaries as protection, in front of temples, near to tombs, in the gymnasia, palaestrae, libraries, porticoes, and public places, at the corners of streets, on high roads as sign-posts, with distances inscribed upon them. Before his role as protector of merchants and travelers, Hermes was a phallic god, associated with fertility, luck, roads and borders. His name perhaps comes from the word herma referring to a square or rectangular pillar of stone, terracotta, or bronze; a bust of Hermes’ head, usually with a beard, sat on the top of the pillar, and male genitals adorned the base. The surmounting heads were not, however, confined to those of Hermes; those of other gods and heroes, and even of distinguished mortals, were of frequent occurrence. In this case a compound was formed: Hermathena (a herm of Athena), Hermares, Hermaphroditus, Hermanubis, Hermalcibiades, and so on. In Athens, where the hermai were most numerous and most venerated, they were placed outside houses as apotropes for good luck. They would be rubbed or anointed with olive oil and adorned with garlands or wreaths. This superstition persists, for example the Porcellino bronze boar of Florence (and numerous others like it around the world), where the nose is shiny from being continually touched for good luck or fertility.

In Roman and Renaissance versions (termini), the body was often shown from the waist up. The form was also used for portrait busts of famous public figures, especially writers like Socrates and Plato. Sappho appears on Ancient Greek herms, and anonymous female figures were often used from the Renaissance on, when herms were often attached to walls as decoration.

(Hat tip to Arne Adolfsen.)

The Secret Erotic Art of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The title of a 6/24/14 blog posting by Barbara Weibel, with a number of remarkable illustrations, including these enormous erect penises, mounted on walls to ensure fertility:


Postings on my blogs on phallic art:

a Page “clothed/unclothed” on postings about male photographers concealing or revealing the penis in their work

on 5/20/11: “Saint Sebastian:”: #3 Keith Haring work with penis

on 5/23/11: “Another Flandrin pose”, with a link to an AZBlogX posting on the pose

on 9/14/11: “The news for penises”, with its 5th section on phallic art, with a link to an AZBlogX posting on Jos Karis’s penis art, plus two Baroque penis compositions, my “Dick Bouquet” collage, and a Benetton montage of genitalia

on 1/20/13 on AZBlogX: “Dick aversion”, with 11 examples of art works displaying penises

on 1/21/13: “Horror of the penis”, following up on this AZBlogX posting:

Hard cocks are apparently by definition inflammatory and cannot be displayed with serious artistic intent. There’s a small list of exceptions to this generalization: in particular, folk art, comic and fantasy art, and (overlapping with these categories) art showing erect penises *detached* from a body (here we sing King Missile’s 1992 song “Detachable Penis”). The remaining examples seem subject to constant pressure to re-label them as pornography rather than serious art.

plus a bibliography of books on male art (art with some homoerotic content or tone) in my library

on 1/22/13: “Porn / art”: art or porn? in male photography

on 3/22/13: “Surrealists”: Paul Cadmus and his male nudes

on 5/23/13: “Annals of phallic animation”: a flying penis monster from the 14th century

on 10/2/13: “Male nudes”

on 11/24/14: “Phallic art”, linking to artwork on AZBlogX

on 12/27/14: “Set of three”: Orlan painting of a male nude, reproduced on AZBlogX

on 1/13/15: “Bernard Perlin”: an much given to drawing male nudes

on 7/11/15: “Outrageous art”: Frankenchrist image on AZBlogX

on 9/24/15: “Another medieval penis monster”

on 1/17/16: “A remarkable website”, on photographer Bob Mizer, with full-frontal nudity on AZBlogX

on 5/17/16: “Joe Dallesandro”: photos of JD, with explicit images on AZBlogX

on 7/25/16: “George Platt Lynes and Jared French”, with male nude photos by Lynes on AZBlogX

on 8/22/16: “The Fine Art Exemption”: Michelangelo’s David on the cover of the NYT Magazine

on 8/26/16: “Two impressively eccentric artsts”, section on Lynda Benglis and her bronze phallic smile

on 8/26/16: “Sylvia Sleigh’s male art”, with a link to genitally nude paintings on AZBlogX

on 9/23/16: “News for penises and their simulacrea”:

Two new annoyances with the Penis Ban on WordPress, Facebook, and Google+. In two recent postings on AZBlogX: “Bear poets in 1963” on the 20th, with a Richard Avedon photo of poets (and lovers) Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg, in which Orlovsky’s (flaccid) penis is not at all the focus of the piece, but is important to its interpretation; and “Voluntary cuckoldry” on the 21st, with a striking graphic illustrating the roles of the three characters in such a relationship, a graphic with two stylized penises in it, one flaccid and one erect…

In both cases, the penises are central to the composition, and not as objects of veneration or erotic triggers; my fondness for cocks in these functions is well-known, and though in principle I think that that more open carnal sexuality would be a good thing, I’m willing to keep such images in a protected place. But in these two cases, I bridle at the Penis Ban.

Nevertheless, this blog is extremely important to me, so I don’t want to do anything that would threaten it. But I can still complain.

In contrast to the two problematic images I just described, consider another image, from an article in Le Soir on the 20th, “D’immenses graffitis de sexe choquent à Bruxelles” [‘Huge sex graffiti shock in Brussels’], an image that was quickly posted on Facebook: [#1, a giant penis image]

on 10/24/16: “Naked boys playing at liberty” in photographs, with a link to genitally nude photos on AZBlogX

on 11/9/16: “Eliding the black penis”: balloon male genitalia

on 12/31/16: “Surrealists, but especially Jess”: #5 Narkissos by the artist Jess

Modern times. From Bob Russell in response to Cordova’s request, this instance of a Magrittean Disavowal (which I’ve posted about several times; it all started with a pipe, but it’s gone in lots of directions, here to a wooden penis):


Russell gave no source for the image, and I haven’t been able to track it down: Google Images unhelpfully thinks it’s a picture of bread, and searching on the text didn’t get me a source for #5, though it did net this version in chalk:


This from Robyn Gallagher on Flickr, taken 12/10/06 in Auckland NZ. Gallagher’s comment: “They’re right. It’s not. Outside the Stamford Hotel on Albert Street.”

Searching on “penis in art” brought several more entertainments. This jar of pickled penises, for example, Mary Ellen Croteau’s Men I Have Known:


Penis art by women (like #7) is sometimes playful but often edgy. A SheRa magazine posting by Charlotte Heather on 1/7/15, “Dick Pics: Art and the Penis”, offered four examples of “some female artists working on or around the penis”, starting with this whimsical composition by Freudenthal & Verhagen:


Freudenthal & Verhagen are a Dutch duo who’ve been working as a photographic and creative team for over 20 years. Both Carmen Freudenthal (photographer) and Elle Verhagen (stylist) graduated from Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam in 1988 and began working together shortly after [laergely in commercial art]. Since, this provocative pair have developed a shamelessly edgy style. (link)

Then Louise Bourgeois and her Janus Fleuri:


From Wikipedia:

Louise Joséphine Bourgeois (… 25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010) was a French-American artist. Best known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art, Bourgeois was also a prolific painter and printmaker. She explored a variety of themes over the course of her long career including domesticity and the family, sexuality and the body, as well as death and the subconscious. Although Bourgeois exhibited with the Abstract Expressionists and her work has much in common with Surrealism and Feminist art, she was not formally affiliated with a particular artistic movement.

And Yayoi Kusama’s Violet Obsession:


From the MOMA site:

[Kusama] affixes sewn-and-stuffed phallic protrusions to everyday objects — ladders, shoes, furniture — which she then arranges in installations, some room-sized. Violet Obsession is a monumental Accumulation: a rowboat with oars, electric purple and covered in irregular oblong forms.

Finally, Kirsten Fredericks:


A knitwear designer for 12 years, Kirsten Fredericks decided to turn a craft deemed very feminine on its head by crocheting and knitting a bunch of penises. She does all shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities (from SheRa)

Bonus. A bit of language art, a prick ambigram:


Reversible word readable upside down. This ambigram shows how the CK letter combination becomes a P after a 180° rotation. In slang language, a prick is a penis, and is also a term used for a worthless asshole. (Wikimedia link) [designed 10/10/16 by Doxoc]

From Wikipedia:

An ambigram is a word, art form or other symbolic representation whose elements retain meaning when viewed or interpreted from a different direction, perspective, or orientation.

Douglas R. Hofstadter describes an ambigram as a “calligraphic design that manages to squeeze two different readings into the selfsame set of curves.”

… The earliest known non-natural ambigram dates to 1893 by artist Peter Newell. Although better known for his children’s books and illustrations for Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll, he published two books of invertible illustrations, in which the picture turns into a different image entirely when turned upside down.

3 Responses to “Art of the penis”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    from Bob Russell on Facebook:

    I took the picture and added the text myself. I have no idea who carved the penis.
    I was tempted to use the original text “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, since “pipe” is slang for “penis” in French.

  2. chrishansenhome Says:

    I recall seeing an artwork called “Prickles” which is similar to the jar of penises you show above but with longer “penises”. I did a quick online search but can’t find it at the moment. I was much taken with it.

  3. Chris Says:

    I started a Tumblr blog dedicated to my self portrait penis art. I was actually surprised at how little interest there is in the cock as an object of art. I find Mapplethorpe and Warhol’s images of cocks to be fascinating and was very inspired by them. Penis photos tend to be viewed as porn more often than not. I imagine some of work is arousing to look at but I think most is intriguing artwork, however I am most likely too close to it to be objective.

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