Three lithographs from 1857

Male nudes from Bernard Romain Julien’s 1857 Cours de Dessin, showing students how to draw figures from life; inexpensive paperback versions of Romain Julien’s instruction books are still available in the US, and seem to be popular; they also stand alone as compendia of the artist’s work, which was especially focused on portraits, bringing his searching gaze to faces.

Three pages from the Cours de Dessin, as encountered recently by Joel Nevis Y Flores and Jusquifabio NevisyFlores at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile (more on J&J and their holiday in Santiago below, but it’s already significant that the two men are married — in the US, on 4/28/12).

Joel took photographs of the three pages in the museum’s exhibition and posted his photos on Facebook. I’ve processed those pictures using Apple’s Photos software, cleaning them up and introducing some variety in their tinting:

(#1) Lithograph #84: sitting nude (on a posing block), gaze averted; thick body, enormously muscular arms (and calves)

(#2) Lithograph #93: reclining nude, back to the viewer; focus on his broad shoulders and muscular thigh

(#3) Lithograph #98: standing, rear view; well-proportioned, leanly muscled, focus on his buttocks

The faces are important in all three drawings.

Realistic figurative art of the male nude — not presenting an ideal athlete, an ideal martial or otherwise heroic figure, or a body viewed as a pleasing arrangement of aesthetically perfect parts; but instead offering a view of actual carnal beings. Admittedly, good-looking men carefully posed, but these are men who sweat (even if you don’t see it in the artwork), and will get cramps in those muscles if you make them hold those poses too long.

Consequently, if you look at these lithographs with a gay eye and an open mind — as I do, and as the husbands J&J do — you will see homoerotic art.

[Digression. Not (necessarily) intended as homoerotic art (I haven’t a clue about Romain Julien’s intentions, since I have no information about his personal life or his attitudes towards his art). Even if intended as homoerotic art, certainly not intended only as homoerotic art; even the crassest visual-art masturbation fodder comes with a style, a tone, and an attitude, each creator impressing the work with their individual take on things — while for most work with a homoerotic edge to it, that’s just one element of a complex whole. Once you’ve seen the homoerotic element in, say, John Singer Sargent, it would be just nuts to reduce all of his work to an expression of his sexual desire for men (and an imaginative identification with women, blah, blah).

But if you’re a gay man, you bring your own history, feelings, and attitudes to bear on what you see, and if what you see is a realistic presentation of a (mostly) unclothed male body, you get a ping from recollections of your experiences with such bodies or a ping from alertness to such bodies as objects of desire (or both). For you, what you see is homoerotic.

Of course, it’s lots of other things as well. When I saw #2 for the first time — it happened to be the first of these three images I came across in looking at Joel’s wonderful Holiday in Chile postings — I was pleasurably impressed simultaneously by the Reclining Nude pose (calling up a whole complex chunk of art history) and by the seductive lines of the model’s thigh and buttock. And then just flat amazed at those extravagantly broad shoulders. And then drawn to study his handsome bearded face, in profile.]

Bernard Romain Julien. English Wikipedia tells us that

Bernard Romain Julien or Bernard-Romain Julien (16 November 1802 – 3 December 1871) was a French printmaker, lithographer, painter and draughtsman.

and has a brief, and rather disjointed, account of his career and significance; French Wikipedia does slightly better, and has a much more intriguing illustration:

(#4) David (1845), with David as a beautiful young man (his nakedness concealed by velvet and fur), contemplating the severed head of Goliath

A fascinating composition (the crossed legs are important, and that outsize white feather, too), but, in my view, both quite disturbing and deeply silly (but then I’m probably missing something). In any case it’s certainly not realistic the way #1-3 are.

J&J in Santiago. So J&J caught the homoerotic in #1-3, and in a few more artworks that were clearly intended to be homoerotic, and Joel posted the whole set.

Posted them in the course of tons and tons of FB messages about things in the National Museum of Fine Arts. And the National History Museum (I don’t think I could even begin to outline the history of Chile, which is monumentally complex, though I’ve been learning new stuff from Joel’s postings; essentially by accident, I was already up on Chile’s wars against Peru + Bolivia, but there was a lot I didn’t know about the Mapuche and about Bernardo O’Higgins). And other museums and monuments and churches and breathtaking scenery (the Andes loom up right behind the city) and charming street scenes and photographs with Jusquifabio’s family in Santiago (heavily focused on Jusquifabio’s mother), who were the motivation for taking a vacation in Chile in the first place. In the springtime (good for spring flowers, bad for their allergenic pollen).

J&J are maniac explorers of city life — Joel’s postings from NYC are absolute delights — and maniac photographers of what they do and see, I mean, just avalanches of stuff, almost every day, sharply observed and wryly commented on. As a virtually housebound person, I treasure every bit of it.

I get in on all this great stuff because in one of his previous lives, Joel got a PhD in linguistics from Ohio State (Finnish Particle Clitics and General Clitic Theory, 1985) with some help from me, and we’ve been friends ever since — as each of us cycled, separately, through several other lives. Nice to be still connected to him.



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