The art of the buttocks

In response to my “Buttocks Display” posting this morning, Sim Aberson wrote to say he expected the posting would have been about this entertaining (but superficial) posting on the Nerdist site, “Museums Fight Over Who Has the Best Butt Art” by Lindsay Romain on 7/8.

Now, I was providing an annotated inventory, specifically of my blog postings (not of the literature in general), specifically on male buttocks displayed as objects of sexual desire, but that’s just one small corner of the world of male nudes in art. In fact, the Nerdist piece is even more general than that.


We love a good social media battle. We especially love when museums get involved. You see, contrary to the silliness that goes down when fast-food restaurants duel on Twitter, there’s a lovely nerdiness to museum banter. And it’s typically rooted in the displays and art the museums showcase. Meaning, not only do we get to witness the unfolding of a petty argument, but we also get an art history lesson.

That’s certainly the case in the latest museum Twitter showdown. And what’s the topic, you ask? Butts, of course! As we learned from Bored Panda, the Yorkshire Museum in the U.K. challenged their fellow museums to a #CuratorChallenge for #BestMuseumBum. They kicked the challenge off with their own most exquisite derriere, as seen in a marble statue from Rome.

The buttocks are male and female, also animal and abstract, from a variety of traditions, but with a main focus on male nudes. The main illustration:

(#1) From William Etty’s figure study “Man Lying Face Down” / a Katsushika Hokusai Sumo wrestler

Neither intended as a sexual display, nor ordinarily understood as one, but instead celebrating athleticism, male beauty (the buttocks as a sign of attractive masculinity, along with faces and torsos), and muscularity as power. (Separately, the display of the naked buttocks can serve as a sign of disrespect.)

William Etty. Largely new to me, so I explored him a bit further. First, the whole “Man Lying Face Down” painting:


Then from Wikipedia:

William Etty RA (10 March 1787 – 13 November 1849) was an English artist best known for his history paintings containing nude figures. He was the first significant British painter of nudes and still lifes.

One of his more extraordinary compositions:


From Wikipedia:

The Triumph of Cleopatra, also known as Cleopatra’s Arrival in Cilicia and The Arrival of Cleopatra in Cilicia, is an oil painting by English artist William Etty. It was first exhibited in 1821, and is now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight across the River Mersey from Liverpool. During the 1810s Etty had become widely respected among staff and students at the Royal Academy of Arts, in particular for his use of colour and ability to paint realistic flesh tones. Despite having exhibited at every Summer Exhibition since 1811 he attracted little commercial or critical interest. In 1820 he exhibited The Coral Finder, which showed nude figures on a gilded boat. This painting attracted the attention of Sir Francis Freeling, who commissioned a similar painting on a more ambitious scale.

The Triumph of Cleopatra illustrates a scene from Plutarch’s Life of Antony and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, in which Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, travels to Tarsus in Cilicia aboard a magnificently decorated ship to cement an alliance with the Roman general Mark Antony. An intentionally cramped and crowded composition, it shows a huge group of people in various states of undress, gathering on the bank to watch the ship’s arrival. Although not universally admired in the press, the painting was an immediate success, making Etty famous almost overnight. Buoyed by its reception, Etty devoted much of the next decade to creating further history paintings containing nude figures, becoming renowned for his combination of nudity and moral messages.

As it turns out, Etty has appeared once before on this blog, in my 12/11/17 posting ” Er is der Schönste in Berlin”, on art works featuring the lateral muscles, many of them rear views, as here:

(#4) Etty, Male Nude, Kneeling, from the Back, ca. 1840

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