Ideal penis size is on the rise in the fine arts, study finds

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The penis began “rather small” in the Renaissance of the 15th century, remained so for a long time and has grown considerably in contemporary canvases.

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Showing penises in classical fine art is as sacred a childhood tradition as underlining swear words in the dictionary.

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As you get older, though, you’re supposed to start keeping those snickers to yourself and commenting on things like composition and brushwork instead.

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This is a rare scientific research paper that captures that youthful fascination with naughty pieces of art, but a newcomer to a UK medical journal has tried it and made a curious discovery about art history.

It seems that penises are getting bigger in paintings, and this change is accelerating. This is the conclusion of a team of urologists reported recently in the journal BJU International, in their article “Depictions of penises in historical paintings reflect changing perceptions of ideal penis size”.

“In paintings of naked men, penis size has gradually increased over the past seven centuries, and especially after the 20th century,” they report.

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One of the co-authors, Annette Fenner, is the editor of Nature Reviews Urology, but was involved as an independent researcher. The rest are affiliated with university or clinical departments of urology in Turkey. An academic art historian is listed as a contributor.

From the 19th century, images of the penis began to become proportionately larger

They started with a few ground rules. No teenager. Obviously no cherubs. Only adult male nudes, and no erections. It should also be possible to measure the ear or nose for standardization. This eliminated almost a third of the 232 paintings of male nudes selected from online art databases with the keywords “male” and “nude”.

Their interest was in the artistic representation of a physical ideal. The stylized iconography of medieval Christian art was therefore over. Their period begins with the Renaissance, with the renewed artistic effort “to reflect the ideal beauty of the human form”.

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They describe this as a significant moment in artistic history, when a cultural preoccupation with penis size that dates back at least to Greco-Roman antiquity, if not Stone Age rock art, finally began to manifest itself in precisely realistic paintings.

This presents an opportunity to measure ideal penis size through the ages. What the researchers found was that the penis started out “rather small” in the 15th century Renaissance, as the article says, remained that way through subsequent periods such as the Rococo, Baroque, and Renaissance. Impressionism, but then increased considerably on contemporary canvases.

“From the 19th century, images of the penis began to become proportionately larger,” the newspaper reports.

Their contribution strongly skews Europe. The authors suggest this may be related to the nude as a predominantly Western tradition of painting, in contrast to Eastern traditions of “aniconism”, or not depicting revered people in art. It does not address how paintings are included in online art databases, nor the potential effect of search terms being all in English.

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The final set was 160 paintings by 99 painters from 21 countries, with Italy, France and Britain being the most common. They include Koloman Moser’s Frühling (1900), Eric Gill’s David (1926), and Bruno Surdo’s Paradox of St. Sebastian (2017).

It took an unusual mathematical approach to pin it all down, involving an ancient esoteric concept known as the golden ratio, which has often been used to describe the geometry of the human form. It describes a line divided in such a way that the ratio of smallest to largest is the same as the ratio of largest to all. It is also mathematically related to the Fibonacci number sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, in which each is the sum of the previous two.

Both concepts are evident through the evolution of nature, as the mathematics underlies spirals, ranging from the shell of a snail to the head of a cauliflower. There is a long history of fascination with this ratio and its relationship to art, beauty and the human form, but also many attempts to see it where it does not exist.

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Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci. Picture of Leonardo da Vinci

The most famous is Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, a 1490 sketch of the geometry of ideal body proportions, said to be based on his knowledge of the golden ratio. In the middle, more or less, is a penis which, unusually for the time, “was clearly visible and was depicted as being more aesthetically beautiful rather than large and long, similar to depictions of the phallus at the period of ancient Greece”. reads the newspaper.

In this new article, however, the golden ratio was most useful when applied to the face, as it served as a means of standardizing the bodies of different male nudes.

“In this study, the face of the man depicted in the paintings was assessed to ensure that it matched the proportions of the golden ratio, which showed that the image was proportioned correctly and realistically” , says the newspaper.

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Taking the ratio of penis length to ear length therefore gave researchers a “penis representation ratio” that allowed for consistent measurement across different paintings, they claim. If they could not measure the ear, they instead used the ratio of the length of the penis to the length of the nose, assuming that “the length of the nose is defined as equal to the length of the ear according to the gold number”.

“While historical and contemporary works of art are considered to represent the ideal in the same way as modern media, the perception of the size of the phallus and the size considered to represent the male ideal seems to have changed over the years. centuries, along with the evolution of cultural differences… In the present study, we have demonstrated that the size of the ideal penis as represented in works of art seems to have increased in recent history, in particular in the 20th and 21st centuries,” the authors write. “This observation illustrates the changing socio-cultural inputs into male body image and highlights the need for a better understanding of the socio-cultural factors associated with the perception of penis size in men. .”

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