Sexy Italians

(References to sex between men in several places, so not to everyone’s taste.)

The centerpiece is this 1900 painting Italian Man with a Rope by John Singer Sargent:

(#1) Though reproductions are on sale all over the place, as items of attractive decor, I haven’t been able to find any information about the occasion for the painting or the model Sargent used (call him Tugger, since he’s tugging on that rope); even the 1900 date comes from an art auction site and might not be reliable


— having blogged in my 10/29/21 posting “Seven faces” about John Singer Sargent’s portraits of men, Pinterest has been offering me, almost daily, more works by Sargent, of all sorts. So, almost daily, I want to post more about the artist. Then #1 happened to intersect with another recent posting topic of mine (see my 1/20/22 posting “Aradesque gets a name”), the underwear model I’d referred to as Aradesque, who turns out to tweet under the name Chris (for Cristiano) Lorenzi. Another sexy Italian — Chris, meet Tugger.

— meanwhile, Pinterest also offered me a Sargent portrait of a sensitive young man, the pianist and composer Léon Delafosse, about whom more in a separate posting, which will also feature Sargent’s close friend and patron, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and her Boston museum.

— then there’s the rope-tugging or -pulling in #1, which suggests the metaphorical sexual slang tugging the rope, widely reported as slang for ‘masturbating’ (while tug and pull appear in a range of other masturbatory expressions, including tug job ‘hand job’).

— which led me to thinking of Tugger and Chris Lorenzi as Italian jobs, (hot) Italian guys, and to wonder whether Italian job had been used as slang for ‘hand job’ (or some other sexual act), Italians being popularly depicted as both sexually desirable and sexually hyperactive. That led me to a 16th and 17th century use of Italian to refer to engaging in the practice of anal intercourse — it seems to have been supposed to be an abominable Italian as well as a Greek vice — and to Italian lavoretto, literally ‘little job’, with a variety of slang uses, including (I read in a Quora response) ‘quickie sex’, especially fellatio.

And of course to the delightful 1969 British comedy caper film, The Italian Job. (Going even further afield, to the fact that where I grew up, submarine sandwiches, or subs, were commonly referred to as Italian sandwiches, or very crudely (but more assonantly) wop jobs. So that if I say I’m looking for a wop job, I might merely be in the market for a big sandwich, or I might imaginably be asking to get fucked à la Baroque, sucked off in a moment, or just jacked off.)

The other sexy Italian. Well, Italian-Aussie, Cristiano Lorenzi in Sydney, displaying himself flagrantly on Twitter. His Twitter thumbnail, to compare to Tugger in #1:

(#2) Brothers, 120 years and 10,000 miles apart

Sargent and his young working-class Italian men. From my “Seven faces” posting:

Seven portraits of men (from 1875 through 1910) by John Singer Sargent, evoking character and state of mind, or celebrating male beauty, or both. Spurred by the appearance on Pinterest of this extraordinary charcoal sketch (from 1900-1910) of the young Italian man Olimpio Fusco (with his address on it!)

(#3) Olimpio Fusco

… Sargent had his young men (some apparently picked up on the streets of Italy, others with him for many years); many were working-class, some Black, but Sargent also formed intense attachments to men of his own class, especially aesthetes and other artists. And drew or painted most of them.

… The evidence is that Sargent chose his companions (of all sorts) well, was prepared to stick with them for the long run, and treated them all — friends, employees, romantic or sexual partners — decently. You don’t see a lot of that.

Meanwhile, he had a very successful career as a society portraitist, an affectionate chronicler of the manners and customs of the upper classes, while imbuing his subjects with vivid life and catching a wide variety of facial expressions. Faces, faces, always the faces.

Lexical notes on tug / pull. First, there’s the widespread reporting of tugging / pulling the rope as slang for ‘masturbating’ — in many of those big lists of colorful ways to talk about jacking off / jerking off / wanking. It’s an obvious metaphor, but a vivid one. Sargent probably meant only to evoke the sweaty work being done by his smiling young Italian, but some viewers will see also a glance towards masturbation, enhancing the man’s desirable sexiness.

From GDoS for the verb tug:

1 [intrans. and trans.] of a man, to have sexual intercourse [from the 17th c. on] 2 (orig. Aus.) [intrans.] to masturbate [1st cite 1988, in a Kiwi slang dictionary]

phrase tug / pull one’s taffy (US) ‘to masturbate’

phrase have a tug ‘to masturbate’ (cf. have a wank)

noun tugger ‘male masturbator’ (cf. wanker)

compound noun tug job (US) ‘the masturbation of a partner’, that is, ‘a hand job’

The last is a sexual X job snowclonelet, to keep in mind as other X job composites come up below. This one is the main topic of two of my postings:

from 9/28/13, in “X job”, about sexual X job (excluding plastic-surgery X job and automotive X job)

from 3/24/17, in “The invention of the X job”, on rub job, hand job, blow job, rim job, fist job

On the abominable practices of the Baroque Italians. From GDoS on the adj. Italian:

[seen as a ‘dirty’ and ‘foreign’ practice] 1 devoted to hetero- or homosexual anal intercourse [cites from 16th and 17th c.]

[hence] Italian sin / tricks ‘anal intercourse’

Throughout Europe of the time, male-male sexual practices primarily involved anal intercourse (translating male-female intercourse into the male-male context in the obvious way), so that interdictions again sex between men were naturally realized as interdictions against anal intercourse; hear the voice of Leviticus 20:13 (KJV):

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Though the practice of anal intercourse between men seems to have been spread pretty evenly across Europe and the Middle East from ancient to modern times, its status within different cultures has varied considerably; limited conventionalization of the practice within certain subcultures of ancient Greece led to Greece being seen in popular lore as the home of the practice and to Greek as an English adjective associated with anal intercourse.

But then Italy and Italian seem to have picked up that association — when any Mediterranean land (Spain, southern France, Turkey, Morocco, at least) would have done as well, given the popular view of the region as a zone of romance, love, and sexual abandon. Picked up that association specifically in Britain, and then only in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Presumably there’s some chunk of cultural history that I’m missing here. But the upshot is that it’s been a very long time since Italian job might have been deployed to refer to a fuck. Pity.

Little jobs and big jobs. Work, criminality, and (at least in Italian slang) quickie sex.

From NOAD on the noun job:

… 2 [a] a task or piece of work, especially one that is paid … [e] informal a crime, especially a robbery: a series of daring bank jobs. …

In Italian slang, lavoretto, literally ‘little job’, is widely used to refer to an odd job or to temp work, and then also to a minor robbery. And also to a quickie sex act (especially fellatio); compare lavoro ‘job, work’ here to English X job as a sexual snowclonelet (in blow job, in particular).

In the world of criminality, there are little jobs (like shoplifting and purse snatching), and then there are big jobs: in particular, major heists like the one at the center of the movie The Italian Job. From Wikipedia:

(#4) Poster for the movie

The Italian Job is a 1969 British comedy caper film, written by Troy Kennedy Martin, produced by Michael Deeley and directed by Peter Collinson. It tells the story of Charlie Croker (Michael Caine), the leader of a cockney criminal gang released from prison with the intention of doing a “big job” in Italy to steal gold bullion from an armoured security truck.

(There’s a star-studded American re-make of 2003, which was well-reviewed; I haven’t seen it.)







2 Responses to “Sexy Italians”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    noun tugger ‘male masturbator’

    Probably not what T. S. Eliot intended when he called one of his Cats “Rum Tum Tugger”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      😀 Well, ambiguity is everywhere. The Eliot is probably a play on Tiger / Tigger. There’s certainly a simple agentive / instrumental noun tugger ‘someone or something that tugs’. Probably a slang tugger ‘tugboat’. And so on.

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