Naked Men in
Art - The Male Nude
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
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
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!"
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