statue of Balzac at the Musée Rodin in Paris, I though it was something else altogether. But I was wrong. Gigantic erections are something you almost never see in mainstream European art. I’m not sure why, because male genitalia are hardly a rarity in classical sculptures and paintings. It’s just that they always seem to be little ones.
There is a word for the artistic representation of an erect penis: ithyphallic. You can do a Google image search for “ithyphallic” if you want to, but you’ll be disappointed – most of the results come from the ancient world (where erections were believed to have magical properties – see Phascinating Phacts). It all changed with the Renaissance – big dicks were out and tiny dicks were in. The result is particularly comical in the case of mythological figures like the Greek god Zeus (≈ the Roman god Jupiter), who spent much of his career inseminating females. The only picture I’ve found that shows him with anything approaching a hard-on is a fresco by the 16th century Italian painter Giulio Romano, depicting Jupiter seducing Olympia.
It’s not just the great mythological figures of Europe who are underendowed in the genital department. There’s a type of statue you sometimes see that I used to think of as a “naked Buddha”, but actually they don’t depict the Buddha at all – they come from another Asian religion called Jainism.
The Buddha is described in a Mahāyāna text called the Gaṇḍhavyūha as having a sex organ “like a thoroughbred elephant or stallion”, that can be retracted into his body when not in use. Presumably for that reason, depictions of the Buddha never show his penis – in fact the clingy drapery sometimes shows the very obvious absence of a penis.
Nevertheless, like Zeus or Jupiter, there’s no doubt the Buddha knew how to use it – witness the countless images of Buddha-incarnations copulating with female consorts (in the Tantric form of Buddhism at least). Here’s one I saw on my recent trip to Paris, in the Musée Guimet. It’s a type of devotional painting called a thangka, although at first glance you could be forgiven for thinking it was an example of early mediaeval interracial porn...