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Men shaping man : the formative power of the male nude in fin-de-siècle Belgium

(2020)
Author
Promoter
(UGent) and Henk de Smaele
Organization
Abstract
Men shaping man offers a cultural history of the transformation of the art-historical theme of the male nude in fin-de-siècle Belgium (c. 1885-1914). A dual observation serves as the point of departure for this examination. On the one hand, a heightened anxiety concerning the definition and the implications of a masculine gender identity courses through the era, constituting an ostensibly cross-European ‘crisis’ of masculinity. On the other hand, the male nude at this time not only remained salonfähig but attained a heightened significance in the arts, in Belgium as in its neighboring countries. Might we resolve the apparent contradiction between men’s concerns about faltering notions of masculinity and the enthusiasm with which they embarked upon the representation of male nudity?--and can we do so by conceiving meaningfully of a centrality of the male body within the reassessment and re-definition of masculinity then underway? Three cases of specific artworks structure the dissertation. They do so chronologically as well as thematically, for each case corresponds to one broad set of issues - of health, sexuality and race, respectively - which made the male body a charged site of gendered discursivity. Combining close reading and thick description, present-day gender-historical insights are held up against contemporary source material. Focusing on Jef Lambeaux’s statuette The Wrestlers (c. 1896) and Charles Van der Stappen’s monument The Death of Ompdrailles (1883-92), I highlight the institution of a muscular regime which bridged the fine arts, biopolitics and the world of combat sports and physical culture. By examining Jean Delville’s canvas The School of Plato (1898), I indicate the shifting implications of men’s physical intimacy, as categories of sexuality congealed into a hetero/homosexual dichotomy. Concentrating on Arsène Matton’s colonial sculpture The Paddler (1911-12), I show that the symbolic subjugation of the black man’s body helped consolidate normative white masculinity as a constitutive component of a restyled Belgian colonialism. Ultimately, Men shaping man aims to demonstrate a wide-ranging shift in notions of masculinity and male homosociality as (partly) shaped in and through representations of the male body. The argument is twofold: firstly, it maintains that the male nude lost a self-evidence which it had previously enjoyed as it became visible in the fin de siècle as a marker of an embodied masculinity, and, secondly, it affirms that, as such, the transformation of the male nude allows to trace the implication of the fine arts in the broad cultural project of the re-articulation of notions of masculinity.
Men shaping man biedt een culturele geschiedenis van de transformatie van de artistieke categorie van het mannelijke naakt in fin-de-siècle België (c. 1885-1914). Een dubbele observatie dient als springplank. Enerzijds heerste er in deze periode een toegenomen onrust rond de definitie en implicaties van een mannelijke genderidentiteit, hetgeen resulteerde in een ogenschijnlijk Europese ‘mannelijkheidscrisis’. Anderzijds bleef het mannelijke naakt niet zomaar salonfähig, maar nam het belang ervan toe in de kunsten, in België evenals zijn buurlanden. Kunnen we de schijnbare tegenstelling opheffen tussen de bezorgdheden van mannen over falende noties van mannelijkheid en het élan waarmee de representatie van mannelijke naaktheid werd aangevat?--en kunnen we dat door de centrale rol van het mannelijke lichaam te belichten in de herdefinitie van mannelijkheid? Drie casussen van specifieke kunstwerken vormen het skelet van de dissertatie. Dat doen ze in chronologische alsook in thematisch zin. Immers, elke casus beantwoordt aan een brede waaier van kwesties - respectievelijk rond gezondheid, seksualiteit en ras - die het mannelijke lichaam zo’n beladen locus van gegenderde discursiviteit maakten. Met een combinatie van close reading en thick description, worden genderhistorische inzichten getoetst aan contemporain bronnenmateriaal. De studie van het statuette De worstelaars (c. 1896) van Jef Lambeaux en het monument De dood van Ompdrailles (1883-92) van Charles Van der Stappen demonstreert de vestiging van een “musculair regime” dat de schone kunsten, de biopolitiek en de wereld van gevechtssporten en fysieke cultuur overspande. Via de analyse van het doek De school van Plato (1898) van Jean Delville, worden de verschuivende implicaties aangetoond van fysieke intimiteit onder mannen, naarmate categorieën van seksualiteit verstijfden in een hetero/homoseksuele dichotomie. Het onderzoek naar het afrikanistische beeldhouwwerkje De peddelaar (1911-12) van Arsène Matton toont aan dat de symbolische onderwerping van het lichaam van de zwarte man normatieve witte mannelijkheid hielp te consolideren, als onderdeel van het gerestylede Belgisch kolonialisme. Men shaping man poogt ultiem om een vérstrekkende omslag te demonstreren in fin-de-siècle noties van mannelijkheid, die (ten dele) werd vormgegeven in en door de representatie van mannelijke lichamen. Het hoofdargument is tweeledig. Ten eerste stelt het dat het mannelijke naakt rond de eeuwwisseling een vanzelfsprekendheid verloor die het voordien had gekend, naarmate het werd gemarkeerd als blijk van een belichaamde mannelijkheid. Ten tweede stelt het dat de transformatie van het mannelijke naakt als dusdanig toelaat om de betrokkenheid na te gaan van de schone kunsten in het grootscheepse culturele project dat noties van mannelijkheid rearticuleerde.
Keywords
Masculinities, Sexuality, The male nude, Belgian art, Nineteenth-century art

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Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Dekeukeleire, Thijs. Men Shaping Man : The Formative Power of the Male Nude in Fin-de-Siècle Belgium. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, 2020.
APA
Dekeukeleire, T. (2020). Men shaping man : the formative power of the male nude in fin-de-siècle Belgium. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte.
Chicago author-date
Dekeukeleire, Thijs. 2020. “Men Shaping Man : The Formative Power of the Male Nude in Fin-de-Siècle Belgium.” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Dekeukeleire, Thijs. 2020. “Men Shaping Man : The Formative Power of the Male Nude in Fin-de-Siècle Belgium.” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte.
Vancouver
1.
Dekeukeleire T. Men shaping man : the formative power of the male nude in fin-de-siècle Belgium. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte; 2020.
IEEE
[1]
T. Dekeukeleire, “Men shaping man : the formative power of the male nude in fin-de-siècle Belgium,” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, 2020.
@phdthesis{8656397,
  abstract     = {Men shaping man offers a cultural history of the transformation of the art-historical theme of the male nude in fin-de-siècle Belgium (c. 1885-1914). A dual observation serves as the point of departure for this examination. On the one hand, a heightened anxiety concerning the definition and the implications of a masculine gender identity courses through the era, constituting an ostensibly cross-European ‘crisis’ of masculinity. On the other hand, the male nude at this time not only remained salonfähig but attained a heightened significance in the arts, in Belgium as in its neighboring countries. Might we resolve the apparent contradiction between men’s concerns about faltering notions of masculinity and the enthusiasm with which they embarked upon the representation of male nudity?--and can we do so by conceiving meaningfully of a centrality of the male body within the reassessment and re-definition of masculinity then underway? 
Three cases of specific artworks structure the dissertation. They do so chronologically as well as thematically, for each case corresponds to one broad set of issues - of health, sexuality and race, respectively - which made the male body a charged site of gendered discursivity. Combining close reading and thick description, present-day gender-historical insights are held up against contemporary source material. Focusing on Jef Lambeaux’s statuette The Wrestlers (c. 1896) and Charles Van der Stappen’s monument The Death of Ompdrailles (1883-92), I highlight the institution of a muscular regime which bridged the fine arts, biopolitics and the world of combat sports and physical culture. By examining Jean Delville’s canvas The School of Plato (1898), I indicate the shifting implications of men’s physical intimacy, as categories of sexuality congealed into a hetero/homosexual dichotomy. Concentrating on Arsène Matton’s colonial sculpture The Paddler (1911-12), I show that the symbolic subjugation of the black man’s body helped consolidate normative white masculinity as a constitutive component of a restyled Belgian colonialism.
Ultimately, Men shaping man aims to demonstrate a wide-ranging shift in notions of masculinity and male homosociality as (partly) shaped in and through representations of the male body. The argument is twofold: firstly, it maintains that the male nude lost a self-evidence which it had previously enjoyed as it became visible in the fin de siècle as a marker of an embodied masculinity, and, secondly, it affirms that, as such, the transformation of the male nude allows to trace the implication of the fine arts in the broad cultural project of the re-articulation of notions of masculinity.},
  author       = {Dekeukeleire, Thijs},
  keywords     = {Masculinities,Sexuality,The male nude,Belgian art,Nineteenth-century art},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {xvi, 396},
  publisher    = {Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte},
  school       = {Ghent University},
  title        = {Men shaping man : the formative power of the male nude in fin-de-siècle Belgium},
  year         = {2020},
}