Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Penises of Rome

OK, admit it.  We all do it.  We check out the crotch on those buff roman male statues.  Whether our interests are prurient or not, we just have to go there.

To combat the possible sense of lust, church fathers set the trend for covering up the offending pudenda with plaster fig leaves.  They are the smallest fig leaves I have ever seen, conforming tightly to the genitals... (speaking of which, have you ever noticed that Venus, the goddess of Love, doesn't have genitals?)  But why fig leaves?  The Bible states simply that Adam and Eve covered up their nakedness; it doesn't say with what.  Back to the origins of christian iconography, Adam is shown with a large fig leaf, not only to cover his sex, but also to hide where the navel should be.  An easy way out from a thorny liturgical question, as important at the time as say, how many angels could dance on the head of a pin?  Or did Christ's divinity come from him or through him?  (a major theological crisis which lead to excommunications, and schism).  So, if Adam was created by God, and not born of a woman, would he have a belly button?  The artistic answer was to hide that part of the body and call it a day.  A fig leaf did the trick.
Hunterian Psalter  English  ca 1170
With time and trends, the fig leaves are falling, sometimes exposing, er, not much.  The penis has fallen off in the intervening couple of thousand years.  (Former) Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was so concerned that the 2nd century AD statue of Mars gracing his office was minus the penis, that he had a restorer fashion a new one.  In keeping with the parameters of restoration and not permanently intruding on ancient material, the new penis is attached with a magnet.

Here are a few hanging around Roma (or not).