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The Art of Missing Penises in Roman and Teotihuacan Art by Debbie Davidsohn 

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Visiting LACMA a number of times, I noticed that many Ancient Roman male sculptures appeared to be missing their penises. It seemed as though their penises were broken off. I am hunching that this was ordered by the varied Popes who ruled Ancient Rome. Although, the museums do not discuss this historical and artistic issue whatsoever, and there is no information available on this artistic issue; one cannot help but notice that lines of very large male sculptures are missing their genitalia. Was it a cardinal sin to display large sculpture revealing their phalluses?

Did any of the Popes become angry and order all the sculpture's phalluses removed? Were the sculptures originally sculpted without phalluses? (This is highly unlikely, because the sculptures appear to have broken edges as if these parts were simply hammered off in some cases, while in other cases, it appears they were sculpted without their phalluses purposely).

The Bateman Mercury - Roman 2nd Century AD Copy after a Greek original of the 4th Century BC - Marble - William Randolph Hearst Collection - Photo by Debbie Davidsohn c 2018
The Bateman Mercury - Photo by debbie davidsohn

The Bateman Mercury – Roman 2nd Century AD Copy after a Greek original

of the 4th Century BC – Marble – William Randolph Hearst Collection – Photo by Debbie Davidsohn c 2018

Drawing comparisons from different cultures in different eras, though, I have found that similarities do exist between cultures. An example would be the Ancient culture of Teotihuacan, with recent archaeological discoveries near and within the pyramids in what we know as Mexico today.

Detail photo by Debbie Davidsohn
Detail - The Bateman Mercury

Closeup – The Bateman Mercury – Photo by Debbie Davidsohn c 2018

Heroic nude statue of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (19 September 86 – 7 March 161 CE) – Photo by Mary Harrsch – Photographed at the Palazzo Massimo venue of the National Museum of Rome, Rome, Italy.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art was having an exhibition entitled: City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan. Apparently, their male sculptures are also missing their penises. These recent archaeological findings were found in Mexico near the pyramids. The culture existed prior to what we know as Mexico or Chicano culture.

According to LACMA's website:

The ancient city of Teotihuacan flourished in central Mexico in the first millennium CE. This multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan city was the largest urban center in the Americas in its day. City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan presents recent findings from Mexican national and international archaeological projects excavating at Teotihuacan's three main pyramids—the Sun, Moon, and the Feathered Serpent—and major residential compounds. These discoveries have fundamentally changed our understanding of the city’s history.

Standing Figure – House of Priests, 150 – 250 - Greenstone c Photo by Debbie Davidsohn

This especially finely carved figure, one of many that were set on altars or temples, comes from the House of the Priests, a palatial compound on the Southern part of the U-shaped platform surrounding the Sun Pyramid.

Its head, legs, and arms were broken, likely in the sixth century, when the city center was burned and sacked. An unusual feature is the circular drill hole in the groin area that may have supported a phallus.

Keep in mind, that Teotihuacan Culture sacrificed human beings who were ritually sacrificed to please their gods and goddesses.

Learn more about this culture here: KCRW Art Talks

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