News for penises, French Riviera edition

(On a statue, in the middle of a public plaza, so I issue no warning.)

From Matt Adams’s travel journal, this view of the Apollo of Nice:


(#1) Matt, eyeing callipygian Apollo at the Fontaine du Soleil, in the Place Messina in Nice

From the other side:


(#2) Calliphallic Apollo, as he currently presents himself

And behind that there is a tale, of penis reduction surgery in marble.

From the Curious Rambler blog, “A Greek God just can’t get any respect in Nice, France” by Margo Lestz on 7/12/13:

If you visit Place Massena, in the very heart of Nice, you will see a large [neo-Classical] fountain called the “Fontaine du Soleil”, the Sun Fountain. There are 5 bronze sculptures in the basin [representing Earth, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus] and in the centre stands an impressive marble Apollo.  He is 7 meters (23 feet) tall and weighs in at 7 tons.  He is definitely the king of the square and you would think this giant would be admired and respected… but not by the Niçois.

When the Sun Fountain was unveiled in 1956, the people of Nice were not impressed.  Apollo’s “job” according to mythology is to carry the sun across the sky every day and he usually does this in his chariot pulled by 4 horses.  But this Apollo didn’t have a chariot and the 4 horses were on top of his head, forming a sort of crown.


(#3) Hippocephalic Apollo, in a close-up

The spectators claimed that he looked like an advertisement for the most popular automobile at the time, the Renault 4CV, known as the “4 horsepower”.  So the magnificent Greek deity was saddled with the nickname – “the 4 horsepower statue”.

But there was a bigger problem – and it was located further down the nude sculpture.  Some conservative inhabitants of the city thought that his “manhood” was too large, while some older ladies thought it was too small, and college students took to decorating it as a prank. [Annoyingly, I’ve been unable to find a photo of the original, arguably macrophallic, Apollo. Tons of travel sites with photos of Apollo as he is now and brief mentions of the larger original, but records of the earlier statue, no; images have actually been removed from some sites.]

In an effort to calm the controversy, the sculptor [Alfred Janniot] took a hammer and chisel to his creation to reduce the size of the offending member [an early penis reduction surgery]. This operation earned Apollo a new nickname. Now, instead of being called “4 horsepower”, he was called “the virgin” [La Vierge, feminine gender, so that Apollo was une vierge mâle — but in any case an epithet intended to be emasculating]. [In fact, the surgery merely brought him in line with other classical statuary, like Michelangelo’s David.]

His embarrassing surgery proved to be insufficient; it wasn’t enough to satisfy the [local] Catholic women’s “League of Feminine Virtue” [I’ve been unable to find any record of this organization; the only mentions I can find are in connection with the Apollo story, and there the name is given in English rather than French]. He was still nude, as were the bronze statues [the three male ones — Venus and Earth/Gaia are female — have ordinary-sized penises, preserved all through this story; see below]. The virtuous women gained enough support that in the 1970s the fountain with its naked sculptures was dismantled. [Prudery even in France. Would this have happened in Italy, only about half an hour’s drive away from Nice?]

The bronze figures were stored at the water treatment plant and Apollo went to stand guard over the Mayor’s office for a short time before he was moved out of the city centre to stand near a sport stadium [the stadium Charles Ehrmann] where he was less likely to offend the ladies. He stayed there for about 30 years.

In 2007 a reporter researching water treatment spotted the bronze statues at the purification station.  He wrote an article about the fate of the Sun Fountain and the public took an interest in it.  The fountain was reinstalled with the bronze sculptures in the basin – but the giant Apollo was still not allowed to return.

Finally in 2011, Apollo was reinstated to his rightful position. Today he stands at the centre of the fountain in Place Massena proudly surveying the plaza and all of the passer-bys.  The Sun Fountain is once again complete and as the artist intended. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for Apollo.  But he is quite an impressive sight, even if there is a little less of him than there used to be.

Penises in bronze. The three male figures from the Fontaine du Soleil, whose penises have remained unaltered since they appeared in the Place Messina in 1956:


(#4) Saturn, the bringer of old age


(#5) Mercury, the winged messenger


(#6) Mars, the bringer of war

Cue the music of Holst’s The Planets.

4 Responses to “News for penises, French Riviera edition”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Riitta Välimaa-Blum (who lives in Nice) on Facebook:

    During his last absence, Apollo got a good clean-up as especially the most intimate parts had got dirty from grabbing hands.

  2. Eamonn McManus Says:

    It appears from http://www.montmartre-secret.com/article-nice-fontaine-du-soleil-apollon-alfred-janniot-117920805.html that the nickname of the altered statue was “Le Puceau” rather than “La Vierge”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Éamonn is in a much better position to comment on this, but as I understand it, puceau is a masc-gender noun meaning ‘virgin’, used only of males (with the stem puce- also seen in dépuceler ‘to deflower’); but also vulgar slang for a male without balls (literally, but most often figuratively, conveying sissiness).

  3. Éamonn McManus Says:

    Well, puceau is used only of males because it is the masculine form. The feminine form is pucelle. (I might be stating the obvious here.) In historical times I don’t think pucelle was pejorative, since Jeanne d’Arc was La Pucelle d’Orléans. But in modern French both genders are pejorative. I haven’t encountered the balllessness meaning, for which I’ve usually heard “sans-couilles”, meaning cowardly rather than sissy.

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