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Naked Men in Art - The Male Nude

Most discussion of "the nude" in art usually refers to female nudes. In the last century, the term nude has been used almost exclusively for paintings of naked women. Men without clothes were considered to be an undesirable subject for art at this time. Yet there are many great examples of male nudes throughout art history, with Michelangelo's David being perhaps the most popular example. The vast majority of male nudes in art seem to be statues.

Interestingly, whenever men were depicted without clothes, the meanings were very different from those implied by female nudity. Art historian Margaret Walters has said "Over the centuries of Western civilization, the male nude has carried a much wider range of meanings, political, religious and moral, than the female. The male nude is typically public: he strides through city squares, guards public buildings, is worshipped in the church. He personifies communal pride or aspiration. The female nude, on the other hand, comes into her own only when art is geared to the tastes and erotic fantasies of private consumers."

Thus, the male nude has often signified virility and power. At the very least, it has been an instruction in anatomy, with an eye to admiring the greatness of God's creation. The female nude, on the other hand, is about voyeurism, of admiring and secretly desiring a woman. This is why so many female nudes are reclining, asleep, unaware of the male gaze.

Depictions of the male nude have usually been created for the male eye, and thus any hint of eroticism or sexuality is absent. Women were meant only to admire the power of the male, not the sexual potential.

The size of the penis on male nudes, especially Ancient Greek and Roman statues, is often small. In the case of the Romans, they considered a large penis to be associated with homosexuality, a practice they looked down on. The Greeks, on the other hand, were obsessed with working out "ideal proportions". The perfect male body, according to their calculations, did not have a large penis because it would be out of proportion. Feminist Camille Paglia has commented on male nudity in ancient art: "In art, the penis has often been extremely small, imitating the Classical Greek style. Women who went to museums in the nineteenth century and saw these nudes were probably very surprised when they got married and realized the actual proportion a penis has to the male body!"

This article also appears on the adult site Artistic
Male Nudes.

 

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