Penis size in art history  

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"In caricature and in the representation of satyrs a penis of great size, even of preposterous size, is very common, and it is a reasonable conclusion (though not, I admit, an inescapable conclusion) that if a big penis goes with a hideous face and ~ small penis with a handsome face, it is the small penis which was admired."--Greek Homosexuality (1978) by Kenneth Dover, p. 126

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This article is about the history of human penis size in the arts.


Ancient Greece

Phallus#Ancient Greece

It is common knowledge that the Greek male beauty ideal was a small penis. See as ultimate example, the phallus of Michelangelo's David[1].

However, this statement needs to be nuanced.

The only study to cover this area is Kenneth Dover's Greek Homosexuality, (1978) which notes that:

(1) Long, thick penises were considered--at least in the highbrow view-- grotesque, comic, or both and were usually found on fertility gods, half-animal critters such as satyrs, ugly old men, and barbarians. A circumcised penis was particularly gross.
(2) The ideal penis was small, thin, and covered with a long, tapered foreskin. Dover thinks the immature male's equipment was especially admired, which may account not only for the small size but the scarcity of body hair in classical art. A passage from Aristophanes sums up the most desirable masculine features: "a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick." --Cecil Adams via [2]

Here is that Aristophanes passage:

I tell you this—
if you carry out these things I mention,
if you concentrate your mind on them,
you’ll always have a gleaming chest, bright skin,
broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks,
and a little prick. --The Clouds tr. Ian Johnston

Some of the hermae, such as the Getty herm, seem to confirm this predilection for small phalli. But, be that as it may, examples such as the A Satyr Masturbating and to a lesser extent the Delos phallus and Woman carrying an oversized caricature of a phallus, prove that one finds both large and small penises in Greek antiquity.

Roman Antiquity

Priapus (House of the Vettii), Ithyphallic Mercurius with moneybag and Caduceus

In Roman Antiquity, both small and large phalli are found, with a slight predilection for the large phallus.

Two famous large phalli characters were dug up in Pompeii, the Priapus (House of the Vettii), Ithyphallic Mercurius with moneybag and Caduceus.

But there are many examples of small penises in Roman art, see heroic nudity and the statue of the Dying Gaul which has a fairly small phallus, possibly a copy of a Hellenistic original, which would explain the small penis size.


When the Greco-Roman world was rediscovered, small penises where again en vogue in the Renaissance; note Michelangelo's David.

In the erotic prints from the Renaissance, in prints by Raimondi and Agostino Carracci, men -- even satyrs -- have normal-sized penises.

However, the grotesquely large phallus is also found, in such prints as A Witch Riding on a Phallus.


In Neoclassical times, small penises again seem de rigueur, see for example the infinitesimal penis of The Wrath of Achilles[3] in the depiction by French painter Léon Benouville (1821–1859).

See also

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