The divine phallus

… in marble and bronze: a continuation of yesterday’s “Two bronze Orpheuses”, which began with the fate of Michelangelo’s marble David in Florida, where high school students must be shielded from viewing the statue’s penis. Australian cartoonist Cathy Wilcox’s savage take on that situation:

(#1) Wilcox’s “American Obscenity” cartoon (from the Sydney Morning Herald)

From here, even disregarding the American obsessive prudery about the human body, the topic goes off in many different directions. I’ll ramble through these in no particular order, starting with a digression on Wilcox, who’s new to this blog.

Cathy Wilcox. From her website, about herself:

Cathy Wilcox has been drawing cartoons since she was old enough to scratch the furniture.

She honed her skills in the margins of school textbooks — always an eye out for squarish blank spaces.

She earned her letters at Art College.

This was followed by a fermentation period of a few years in the cultural petri-dish of Paris.

Eventually the Sydney Morning Herald took pity on her and gave her her own blank spaces to fill.

And here she is, churning out cartoons almost daily since 1989, pausing only to procreate, make cups of tea and collect cartooning awards.

She has cocked her skeptical eyebrow and poked her inky nib at pretty much any subject you care to name.

Michelangelo’s David (and his penis). From my 8/23/16 posting “More on the David”, about Michelangelo’s [marble] statue David, specifically on:

[its penis] — probably the most famous and the most viewed penis in the Western world

… The David’s penis is generally characterized as “small” or even “tiny”. There are certainly four, and possibly five, contributions to this effect.

… Factor 4. artistic conventions and cultural values. It’s well-documented that statues of naked men in classical (Greek and Roman) times for the most part had rather small (to modern eyes) penises, and that this artistic convention was echoed in Renaissance statuary.

(#2) Florentine marble statue, created between 1501 and 1504

This was not an arbitrary artistic convention, but instead followed from the cultural values of classical times, according to which large penises were associated with foolishness, stupidity, ugliness, bestiality, lack of control, low class, and lust, while small penises were associated with wisdom, restraint, self-control, education, breeding, male beauty, and higher class. The David is not a dumb beast, but a man of parts, and his penis is an outward sign of these excellent qualities.

The other four factors have to do with actual human penises. But Michelangelo’s David is a hero, treated as a god, and such divine figures are frequently presented in statuary as nude figures, subject to the artistic conventions of the times.

Orpheus. Straightforwardly a divine figure. From Wikipedia:

Orpheus in Greek mythology was a Thracian bard, legendary musician and prophet. He was also a renowned poet and, according to the legend, travelled with Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece, and even descended into the underworld of Hades, to recover his lost wife Eurydice.

Ancient Greek authors such as Strabo and Plutarch note Orpheus’s Thracian origins. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music (the usual scene in Orpheus mosaics), his attempt to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld, and his death at the hands of the maenads of Dionysus, who tired of his mourning for his late wife Eurydice. As an archetype of the inspired singer, Orpheus is one of the most significant figures in the reception of classical mythology in Western culture, portrayed or alluded to in countless forms of art and popular culture including poetry, film, opera, music, and painting

The counterpart to #2 for Orpheus:

[from the Metropolitan Mueum of Art site:] Orpheus, famous for taming beasts with his music, is here shown entertaining himself, his body swaying to the sound of the lira da braccio. The statue was carved for the Palazzo Corsi, Florence.

(#3) Florentine marble statue created between 1600 and 1601 by Cristoforo Stati (Cristofano da Bracciano) (1556–1619)

More recent Orpheus statuary, sometimes in marble, sometimes in bronze, is found across Italy, France, Germany, Poland, and Scandinavia (at least) — in museums (including the façade of the Louvre), and often in public squares, parks, and gardens; sometimes artfully draped, but often nude; sometimes with classically small penises, but sometimes with flaccid penises closer to the mean.

(Meanwhile, Rodin did Orpheus and Eurydice in bronze. And also (very movingly) in marble, with the couple nude in both media.)

Which brings me to the Anglosphere, and the two most famous Orpheus statues in the UK and the US — yesterday’s two bronze Orpheuses. An interesting contrast.

The UK statue. By British sculptor Astrid Zydower in 1984, created for the fountain on the central terrace of Harewood House in Yorkshire,  a 9-foot bronze of Orpheus carrying a leopard:

(#4) Orpheus in the posture of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man; the leopard lolls placidly on Orpheus’s broad shoulders, having been charmed by his music

Meanwhile, Orpheus sports a penis in proportion to his body, roughly the mean length for men, and substantial testicles. He’s portrayed here as Ideal Man, in all respects.

The US statue.

(#5) Created by Charles H. Niehaus in 1914, this 24-foot-tall — truly gigantic — statue of Orpheus playing a lyre stands near the entrance to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore as a monument to Francis Scott Key

Though a nude male statue in such a public place is most unlikely in the prudish US, this one instead flaunts a huge genital package masked (but scarcely concealed) by an enormous fig leaf — America’s great codpiece tribute to the composer of our national anthem:


In my country, size matters.

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