Are You a Connoisseur of Male Beauty? A Nude Invasion!

Magda Michalska 7 June 2024 min Read

According to the famous poster by Guerrilla Girls, 85% of nudes in Western art history are of women. They were subject to the male gaze, presented on a silver platter under the guise of a famous mythological or religious story. Time to turn the tables! Let’s take a look at the most famous representations of male nudes for a change…

The Greeks Knew Best…

Sleeping Satyr, or the Barberini Faun.
Male Nude in Art: Sleeping Satyr, or the Barberini Faun, 220 CE, Glyptotek, Munich, Germany. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Barberini Faun or Drunken Satyr (faun was a Roman equivalent to a Greek satyr, a creature which attended Dionysus) is one of the gems of the Glyptotek. His sensual pose and his facial expression just speak for themselves. No wonder why Ludwig I of Bavaria wanted him for his new museum of sculpture in Munich.

Prince Charming, Italian Style

Male Nude in Art: Michelangelo, Ignudo, 1509, Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).
Male Nude in Art: Michelangelo, Ignudo, 1509, Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Is Renaissance art so popular because it strips again all those fantastic bodies?! I leave you to meditate over this question and, this time, I’m not showing you my favorite man on this planet, as he has his own article (if you need more male nudes, have a look there). This time is the five minutes of fame for the fabulously seductive ignudo (i.e. nude man) from the Sistine Chapel.

Wanna Play?

male beauty in art: Caravaggio, John The Baptist, 1602.
Male Nude in Art: Caravaggio, John The Baptist, 1602, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Aaaaah, Caravaggio and his genius brush! But where did he take all these young boys to model for him?! I’m not implying anything, especially the alleged homosexuality of our master… I picked this young John the Baptist because I didn’t want to be so explicit with Amor Vincit Omnia, and this playful smile just always wins me over.

Come and Party with Me, Will Ya?

male beauty in art: Peter Paul Rubens, The Drunken Hercules, c. 1611
Male Nude in Art: Peter Paul Rubens, The Drunken Hercules, c. 1611, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, Germany. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).  

Time for something more sturdy for the fans of Peter Paul Rubens and heavy lifting. Rubens mastered the depiction of anatomy and muscles and he would search to demonstrate it on any occasion. His direct inspiration was Michelangelo, which we can see in the similar treatment of the male body that is always extremely muscular and perfectly formed, whereas the poses of the figures are planned in a way to highlight their beauty.

The Lying Beauty

male beauty in art: Jacques-Louis David, Male Nude Known As Hector, 1778.
Male Nude in Art: Jacques-Louis David, Male Nude Known As Hector, 1778, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

With Jacques-Louis David, we leave the Baroque abundance and dive into the Neoclassical return to tranquility. David did not need extra sets to arrange a captivating scene: dark background which emphasizes the whiteness of the body, the red cloth which attracts the gaze to the focal elements of the composition (oh, yeah), and finally a diagonal pose which runs across the entire canvas and makes us swoon. No wonder why David had so many pupils!

Oh, Those Sportsmen…

male beauty in art: Gustave Courbet, The Wrestlers, 1852-1853.
Male Nude in Art: Gustave Courbet, The Wrestlers, 1852-1853, Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Gustave Courbet, the man who liked to bring chaos into the ordered world of the prudent French, painted many controversial paintings (google The Origin of the World and you’ll know what I mean) which however revolved around female bodies. This painting is rather unusual for him as it does not allude to any social issues which Courbet referred to usually in his works. I guess he must have been under a strong impression of these wrestlers, and so am I.

Never Swim Alone

the male beauty in art: Thomas Eakins, Swimming, 1885
Male Nude in Art: Thomas Eakins, Swimming, 1885, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX, US. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Although, funnily enough, Victorian culture approved of men bathing naked, Thomas Eakins was the first to include nudity in American painting so explicitly. He exploited this to study male nudes. He was especially into buttocks, which would amount to one of his masterpieces, in which he depicted his own art students and himself (right bottom corner) bathing together. After this painting had been published, Eakins was forbidden to use his students as models by the directors of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he worked. Not long later, he was forced to resign on the grounds of sexual scandals which involved him and his students. Well, no more baths, I guess.

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Male nudes in art: Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, Study, Young Male Nude Seated beside the Sea, 1836, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. Erotica

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