Two bronze Orpheuses

🐇 🐇 🐇 rabbit rabbit rabbit for the first of April, and that’s no joke. Today’s topic is the depiction of the god Orpheus in two bronze statues, one in the UK, one in the US.

More specifically, it’s about the treatment of Orpheus’s genitals in the two statues, reflecting a (sub)cultural difference between the US (where a strain of fundangelical belief holds that the naked human body, especially the male body, is unclean and dangerous, especially to children and women, who therefore must be elaborately protected from viewing it) and essentially the rest of what might referred to in shorthand as western civilization (where norms of privacy and modesty hold sway, but artistic representations of the naked body have their place, even in public parks and gardens).

This posting was provoked by, first, a complex case in Florida involving a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David shown to a high-school class; and then the ensuing photo of one of the Orpheuses — from the UK — on Facebook. There’s a lot more, but I’m unable to finish this posting today, so I’ll just give you the teaser materials here. More to come

A cartoon provoked by the Florida case. By Australian cartoonist Cathy Wilcox, in the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago:

(#1) Wilcox, “American Obscenity”

The UK Orpheus.


From Wikipedia:

Astrid Zydower MBE (4 August 1930 – 27 May 2005) was a British sculptor.

… In 1984, for the fountain on the central terrace of Harewood House in Yorkshire Zydower created a nine foot high bronze of Orpheus carrying a leopard.

The US Orpheus.


From Allen Browne’s Landmarks site about this Orpheus on 11/3/12:

This 24-foot-tall statue of Orpheus stands near the entrance to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine  as a monument to Francis Scott Key.

… In 1914 Congress appropriated funds for a monument at Fort McHenry to mark the centennial of the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the defense of Baltimore. Orpheus with the Awkward Foot, the creation of sculptor Charles H. Niehaus, was selected from thirty four designs submitted in a national competition.

Orpheus is depicted playing a lyre, and stands twenty-four feet from head to toe. The marble base bears a medallion honoring Francis Scott Key, flanked by a procession of allegorical figures. The pedestal contains a time capsule filled with documents of patriotic and historical interest. In 1962 the statue was moved here from its original site near the fort’s principal entrance.

… While the leaves of Ficus carica are traditionally used to add modesty to nude statues, I’m unaware of another statue in which the leafy codpiece plays so prominent a part.

(#4) A codpiece serves to advertise, not conceal

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