Beginning in 1800, Looking at Men explores how the modern male body was forged through the intimately linked professions of art and medicine, which deployed muscular models and martial arts to renew the beau idéal. This ideal of the virile body derived from the athletic perfection found in the classical male nude. The study of human anatomy and dissection in both art and medicine underpinned a modern gladiatorial ideal, its representations setting the parameters not just of ‘normal’ virile masculinity but also its abject ‘other’. Through the shared violence of human dissection and martial arts, male artists and medics secured their professional privilege and authority on the bodies of ‘roughs’. First and foremost visual, this process has literary parallels in Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde. While embodying signs of dominant power and signalling differences of race, class, gender and sexuality, the virile masculine ideal contained its shadow, the threat of loss, of a Darwinian ‘degeneration’ that required vigilant intervention to ensure the health of nations.
Anthea Callen’s lively and intelligent study casts a new eye on contributions by many lesser-known artists, as well as more familiar works by Géricault, Courbet, Dalou and Bazille through to Eakins, Thornycroft, Leighton and Tonks, and includes images that draw on photography and the popular visual cultures of boxing, wrestling and bodybuilding. Callen reassesses ideas of the modern male body and virile manhood in this exploration of the heteronormative, the homosocial and the homoerotic in art, anatomy and nascent anthropology.
Anthea Callen is professor emeritus of the Australian National University, Canberra, and professor emeritus of visual culture, University of Nottingham, UK.
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