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Homoerotic Art Collection from 1750 to 1920

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This paper considers the general structural logic of homoerotic art collections from the later eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, focusing on their collation of contemporary with non-modern (usually classical Greek and Roman or Italian Renaissance) arts. The mere appreciation of a homoerotically attractive work of art, such as a sculptural depiction of a beautiful and desirable male body, whether contemporary or not, did not necessarily create a homoerotic display or collection. Patrons and viewers could aesthetically admire such canonical objects without thereby expressing any awareness of, let alone attachment to, their original and to possible contemporary pederastic or homosexual connotations. But canonically homoerotic aesthetic appreciation could be inflected pederastically or homosexually by acquiring, admiring and displaying objects in configurations that suggested their phallic significance or potential; the non-canonical, sometimes subversive, appeal of phallica and homoerotica – again, usually ancient or early modern, though modern replications were frequently produced – was a crucial element in the constitution of the ‘homosexual’ (or, better, homosexualized) collections of the nineteenth century. Recognized in ironic and quasi-pornographic representations by d’Hancarville, Noel, Goethe, Forberg, Famin and other writers and collectors, the phallic inflection of homoerotic beauty offered an alternative to Winckelmannian and Kantian aesthetics. In particular, the paper considers the phenomenon of ‘phallic doubling’– the representation or display of homoerotically beautiful works such that they appeared to respond to one another, to address one another’s implied narratives, and to supplement and sometimes to undermine one another’s stable erotic connotations – as the key principle of ‘homosexual’ art collections, necessarily clandestine in their formation and circulation, even as they worked with canonical ideals.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Northwestern University

Publication date: 2001-04-01

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