Seeing representations of male nudity in Western art is nothing new, but how the nude male figure is represented has changed over the centuries. Especially when it comes to penis size. Male genitalia in art have increased considerably in both width and length since the Renaissance, according to a new international study.
The study in question was carried out by a team of researchers and urologists based in the UK and Turkey. They studied how the representation of male genitalia in Western art has evolved by analyzing 160 paintings by a hundred artists from 21 countries around the world. These paintings were divided into several groups according to the period in which they were painted: Renaissance, the Baroque/Rococo movement, the Impressionist period and the contemporary period.
Scholars have found that the number of paintings depicting nude male bodies increased dramatically during the 15th and 16th centuries. But they systematically represented men with a small penis.
This type of representation actually dates back to ancient times. At that time, small male genitals were a sign of intelligence, self-control and virility. This aesthetic ideal continues beyond the Ancient Greek period, which explains why Renaissance masters such as Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Antonio Pollaiuolo painted men with small genitals.
An aesthetic, societal construct
However, male beauty canons have evolved over time, which has played a role in penises getting larger in Western art. The authors of the study, whose findings were published in the medical journal BJU International, noted that the average size of penises appearing in 21st century paintings is larger than those depicted in the past. In fact, they are the largest ever painted.
For Ege Can Serefoglu, a professor of urology at Biruni University School of Medicine and co-author of the study, this phenomenon shows that the importance we place on penis size is, above all, a societal construct.
“In the contemporary period, we knew that penis sizes enlarged along with the perception of the society related to the ‘ideal penis size,” he told PsyPost.
This ideal of a large penis is a source of discomfort for many men who are concerned about the size of their genitals. Popular culture, especially pornography, feeds this sense of shame by homogenizing bodies and ranking men according to their penis size. As a result, some men consider having penis enlargement or lengthening surgery.
“Many young men compare their penis size with that of porn stars and consider their penises to be small, although their sizes are within the normal range,” Ege Can Serefoglu told the specialist publication.
He added that “[t] hey are having a great amount of anxiety regarding the inability to satisfy their partners, although it has been demonstrated that penis size does not have a significant impact on partner satisfaction.”