A Large Penis Uncovered in a Restored 17th-Century Painting
In restoring a large-scale painting by 17th-century French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), art conservators have uncovered a vital detail: the erect penis of the Greek god of fertility. The painting Hymenaios Disguised as a Woman During an Offering to Priapus (circa 1634-38) (pictured before the restoration below) shows Hymen, the Greek god of marriage, disguising himself as a woman in order to join a group of maidens making an offering to Priapus. Priapus is depicted as a carved-stone herm at the center of the canvas. Traditionally, images of Priapus show the god sporting a very large, erect penis; however, such displays were often censored during religiously conservative times. "They have hidden the phallus of Priapus. This is what we call touches of modesty, which is not uncommon," said conservator Regina Pinto Moreira of the Louvre Museum. The newly revealed erection will occupy the viewer's gaze at the very center of the action.
The work of art, formerly in the collection of the Spanish royal family, was likely painted over during the 18th century. Many European works of art, from paintings to sculptures, were often modified or censored by more pudic generations. In many cases, fig leaves and other modesty-enhancing adornments would be added to a painting to cover up erotic content. Subsequent restoration, which involves carefully removing all later additions to a work of art, has often revealed such original details, which were long forgotten. In the case of this painting, uncovering Priapus's erection restores the narrative and iconographic clarity that made Poussin one of the most sought-after artists of his time.
The painting, part of the permanent collection Museum of Art in São Paulo, Brazil, had several tears and holes as well as "several layers of paint accumulated over the past 300 years." The restoration of the 12-foot-by-5-foot canvas took Pinto Moreira and two other restorers 8 months to complete at a cost of $213,000. The painting will be showcased as part of the exhibition "The Year of France in Brazil," and all of its (and Priapus's) glory will be on view beginning September 8.