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The aesthetics of the foreskin according to art and artists


Painters, scultors, and engravers are frequently known for their representations of nude males, which often show foreskins.


Time and time again, they show us scenes of the ritual of circumcision. It is always the circumcision of Jesus Christ by ancient artists from schools and countries which differ greatly, from primitive Italians, the Flemish or Germans, painters from the Renaissance, and the seventeenth century. Artists from later centuries were less inspired by religious, historical events and, except for some rare exceptions, have abandoned them completely. It is in the engravings and the ancient paintings that the divine circumcision abounds. We can't list all these works, but they include the Mantegna painting in the Office Museum in Florence which is well know, the engravings of Dürer, several Rembrandts, and the canvas painting of Guilio Pippi in the Louvre Museum.


Keeping this in mind, we come to the study of the aspect of the foreskin that the artists give us. Don't forget that the skin fold has very different appearances. In most cases, it covers the largest part of the glans, leaving half or a third of the forepart in view. Quite often it covers up the glans without going past it and it doesn't even leave a glimpse of the meatus. It can even go past the glans, forming a trunk at one time or, at another time, be brought up completely from the glans which remains constantly uncovered. Of these aspects, which one of them is the most aesthetic? It will be the examination of the nudes represented by the painters, drawers, and sculptors from diverse epochs which will give an answer to this question because the artists are preoccupied with making everything look as aesthetic as possible, and they show us the foreskin in the way they have found it to be the most beautiful.


If you look at ancient Greek or Roman statues and the nude characters non ancient vases, you will notice that the foreskin, sculpted or drawn, cover the glans completely. If we go through the rooms in the Louvre with ancient sculptures, we can see that the whole glans disappears under the foreskin.



However, the ancient sculptors had to see the many individuals around them whose glans stayed nude. If they didn't depict this aspect, it was because it was judged as having little aesthetic value. For them, it seemed the indisputable beauty was attained only when the foreskin extended all the way to the end of the glans.


We can't imagine that ancient artists were guided by a sentiment of modesty because this strange sentiment did not yet exist during this epoch. It was invented much later on.


It was brought to my attention that perhaps it wasn't only the scruples of the model that guided Greek and Roman artists when they represented the foreskin. The Greeks mainly described the human body in its general character. They created a general type of man and woman, as though all around them the foreskin covered up the glans. They always showed it in this aspect in order to have it seen in its general type. But, has they owned a sentiment of beauty and harmony to the highest degree, we cannot deny that this played a major role when these preoccupations come into their minds.


Leaving ancient art, we can now examine ancient painting, principally Renaissance art because in it we see numerous foreskins. We discover there again that artists, without exception, represented the foreskin completely covering up the glans. Sometimes we discover an image of a trunk, as in Mantegna's Jesus Christ in the Louvre, " The Victory of the Virgin " and in several other of his paintings with nude infants also in the Louvre.


Raphael also shows us the foreskin covering the glans, but never tries to show a trunk-like image. To back this up, we only have to look at his "Holy Family" and his "Blessed Virgin" which are at the Louvre. In his painting called "The Beautiful Gardener", the baby Jesus has a foreskin which doesn't let us see the glans. If we explore the Flemish School or the German School, when we see the Virgin of Dürer, we see the same thing. A little later, Rubens lets us see a foreskin by chance, and shows the same thing, as did Le Poussin.


When examining all the ancient paintings representing the baby Jesus, a very curious observation can be made. We are often shown an age after the eighth day, where he appears uncircomcised. This is an enormous mistake. I have questoned numerous artists on this subject and the majority have said that ancient painters were not preoccupied with Jesus'circumcision and has painted his foreskin such as they had seen it with all the infants around them.


This is quite likely. We know of the liberties taken by the painters of that epoch vis-à-vis costumes and monuments. In " Noces of Cana " of Veronese, the characters are dressed like the Venitians of the 16th century and the room that houses them is a palace resembling one found in Venice during that time. Some artists have suggested that Jesus was represented non-circumcised out of a feeling of modesty in order not to impose another kind of nudity on him.


If we thus examine art of antiquity and ancient art, we will be convinced that the most aesthetic aspect of the foreskin is one that covers the glans to its extremity or even which passes it very slightly. Ancient sculptors liked to highlight the glans under the foreskin where the ancient painters did not.


Let us examine modern art from the same point of view. Here it is more difficult to form an opinion because these painters rarely depict nude males and, when by chance that does happen, they tend to make the general masses focus on light and shadow rather than on details of the form. We know the charcoal drawing of Cezanne which represents young men who were models from the Swiss workshop. Their foreskins covered up the glans. There are also some very old schools of Rodin which represent nude adult males who have their foreskins brought up behind the glans. But the drawings of Cezanne and Rodin are from the academies; these artists were confined to doing what they saw without particularly worrying about the foreskin. We cannot come to any conclusion because there was no model interpretation.


Negro art, which has produced some admirable works, always shows the uncovered glans on the fetish statues. But, black artists, before anything else, were realists. They faithfully transposed what was in front of their eyes. And, in the Negro race, circumcision is generally practiced.


The small number of modern works of art where the foreskin is shown, does not give us an idea of the aspect prefered by artists in our time.


Painter Tristan Klingsor said that the prefered aspect is where the foreskin covers the glans completely without shaping a trunk. He said this is its normal appearance which shows man harmoniously developed. And , if he had to paint a nude male and the model had an uncovered glans, he would, without hesitation, give a foreskin, conforming with his idea of putting his aesthetic concern before reality.


We have questioned many modern artists on whom we shall not give our opinion because that would lead us astray. But, to summarize this whole inquiry, we can say that, for the most part, for current day artists, the two most aesthetic aspects are those where the foreskin covers the glans completely and where it lets us see the tip of the forepart.


This data might interest those surgeons who only practice removal of the foreskin for aesthetic reasons. They should adopt a procedure which will permit them to easily attain this goal. The first appearance (glans totally covered), can only be realized in cases you have a lot of extra skin, i.e., a hypertrophic lengthening of the foreskin. The second appearance (glans twothirds covered) is very easy to realize. We describe the procedures which give this aspect and, moreover, which leave an invisible scar on the stitch line where the patient has been circumcised. These will give the results most likely to satisfy artists, the surgeons, and the most difficult patients regarding the appearance of the foreskin.


It is, in fact, an absolute necessity that the surgeon be certain and perfect in accomplishing the aesthetic success of the posthectomy he has occasion to perform. These operations will give him recognition, gratitude, and an advantageous professional esteem.


To the contrary, one would be very angry with him if he mutilated those foreskins that were entrusted to him, particularly of young boys. One could hardly escape the hate of women of the family (mother, sister, aunt), that female solidarity for future women, lovers, and legitimate wive. The men (father and brother) pay less attention because they don't regard the qualities of elegance which are considered primordial with an organ so important.


A surgeon told me one day, at the beginning of his career when he had just decided to specialize in infant surgery, his former teacher, Terrier, told him, "Above all and before everything, take care of your phimosis..." That was precious advice. Care for the posthectomies you perform meticulously, obey the model data that we have just reported, and choose operating procedures capable of leading you to entirely satisfying results.



Victor Doiteau, M.D.

Paris - 17 Octobre 1926


Speech of the Association contre la Mutilation des Enfants at the second International symposia on circumcision organised by NOCIRC in San Francisco, may 1991.


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