How does that statue make you feel?
One of the things that I like to do when travelling, when visiting cities around the world, is to check out the museums and galleries. In particular, I always enjoy admiring their statues.
I like to think that I’m appreciating the craftsmanship, the technique, the smooth lines of the marble that evoke a different time, a different place, a different world. An alternative explanation is that I could be experiencing a mild case of agalmatophilia.
Agalmatophilia is the word used to describe the sexual attraction to a statue. There’s lots of variations and extremes that fall within the classification of agalmatophilia – from a desire for sexual contact with the statue, to a fantasy of having a sexual encounter with the subject of the statue, to wanting to watch sexual encounters between statues, or even the fantasy of being transformed into a statue.
The first documented case of agalmatophilia was published in 1877, when Richard von Krafft-Ebing described the case of a gardener who fell in love with a statue of the Venus de Milo and was discovered attempting to have sex with it.
I’m very much at the vanilla end of that spectrum. I really like looking at statues of men. I’m always particularly impressed by the work of the Greek sculptors – they really knew how to use a block of marble to capture the physicality, strength, and beauty of a man.
As a destination, London is a bit of an agalmatophilia goldmine. Impressive statues can be found adorning the streets, on buildings, and of course in its museums.
The Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington has a particularly impressive sculpture garden. From the 16th century through to today, some of the world’s best sculptors are represented.
Here is an overview of some of the statues that stood out for me during a recent visit.
Samson Slaying A Philistine c.1562, Giovanni Bologna (called Giambologna)
This is a massive marble statue standing nearly seven feet high (210 centimetres). The story that this sculpture depicts is a biblical tale from the Book of Judges, the hero Samson slaying a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass. Originally created as part of an ornamental fountain for the Medici family in Florence, in a complicated chain of events the fountain was given to the English Duke of Buckingham in 1623 who had it shipped to his estate in England. Giambologna is one of the lesser known sculptors who were working in Italy during this period. Heavily influenced by Michelangelo, Giambologna became the Medici family’s court sculptor for a period around 1560.
Jason c.1550–1600 A marble statue from the Renaissance period
The mythology of Jason includes the sacred grove of the Golden Fleece and the Garden of the Hesperides, so this story was often an inspiration for statues designed for gardens and orchards. While the sculptor’s identity is unknown, it has been established that this sculpture of Jason once adorned the garden of the Palazzo Stiozzi-Ridolfi in Florence.
Narcissus c.1560. Probably by Valerio Cioli
Narcissus was a young man who looked into a pool of water and was mesmerised by the beauty of his own reflection. This particular representation was most likely the centrepiece for a fountain, so the sculptor would have positioned Narcissus gazing into an actual pool of water.
Auguste Rodin – The Age of Bronze, modelled about 1876–7
This was Rodin’s first large sculpture and it was the one that first brought him to public attention. When initially exhibited as an untitled plaster, it caused great controversy, as critics assumed it was a life cast – as opposed to being freely modelled. At this time, Rodin had recently returned from a trip to Italy where he was inspired by the work of Michelangelo and other Renaissance sculptors. Rodin created the work during the Franco-Prussian war, when he was living in Belgium. His model was Auguste Neyt – a soldier who was posted to barracks near to the home of Rodin.
Ivan Mestrovic – Torso of Banovic Strahinja 1908
Banovic Strahinja was a mythical Serbian hero renowned for his beauty. Mestrovic trained in Vienna then moved to Paris where he met Rodin, whose influence can be seen in this naturalistic but fragmented figure.