It’s been nearly a year since I had a hottie of the month, my tongue-in-cheek homage to men and women from the long eighteenth century. The lack of “hotties” has largely been due to the fact that I haven’t been teaching (or even researching) in the eighteenth century lately. Now that I’m a dean, I’m not teaching as much, on the one hand, and I don’t have much time for writing, on the other.

But I think it’s time to get back to my blogging roots. When I started this blog, it was mostly about my teaching and research. Over time it’s become more pop culture centered. While I’m still going to write about movies, music, and other random aspects of my life and opinions, I also want to write about eighteenth-century subjects. So, I’ve decided to revive the hottie of the month feature!

This month’s hottie is the eighteenth-century Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. While PJ and I were in Italy last summer, I fell in love with sculpture in a way that I had never been before. I was especially drawn to Bernini’s work at the Borghese Gallery. Canova also has a prominent work at the Borghese: a statue of Pauline Bonaparte:

As this image suggests, Canova’s ability to suggest drapery in this statue is amazing. It’s even better in person. The cushion she’s sitting on and the “fabric” on the side of the piece both make you feel like you could reach out and feel their softness.

But Canova is actually known more for his nudes, which tend to be ideals of the human form. What brought him back to mind was seeing a replica of one of his works, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last month. I quickly became obsessed with this statue and took a lot of pictures of it from every angle. The rest of the pictures below are ones I took:

Three things immediately stood out to me about this statue. First, I, of course, noticed that he is nude. So, let’s admit the obvious: I’m a gay man and I like idealized statues of nude men. PJ and I actually entered the room that this statue is in from behind the statue, so the first impression we had of it was this:

So, it’s not just that he’s nude — baby’s got back! This is even more apparent from a slightly different angle:

This Perseus could clearly make a bundle in as a bottom in gay porn today! From behind, he reminds me a lot of Michelangelo’s David — similar stance, ass, back, and shoulders. And like David, this statue is an idealized nude, perfectly proportioned and just the right amount of beefiness for a Greek hero.

The second thing I noticed was the idealized smoothness of this statue, as you can see here:

Perseus has public hair but is otherwise without any body hair. His butt and back might be manly and he definitely has a muscular chest, but no unnecessary body hair for this guy. These choices allow Canova to emphasize his Perseus’s manly strength and relative youthfulness. He’s not fully mature yet. Again, this capturing of early manhood seems part of the idealization of the male form.

And finally, the third thing that impressed me about the statue was its sense of motion. Perseus is stepping forward while holding Medusa’s head aloft:

This dynamism is important to the idealization, I think, because it helps to keep everything in proportion. The proportions of the statue look perfect when viewed from the side like this. It’s amazingly beautiful.

Putting all of this together, Canova has created a statue that is beautiful in its representation of physical perfection, a young man who is physically engrossing without being “dirty.” We could lust of this form, but the statue doesn’t demand that we do. It evokes admiration, it seems to me, rather than desire.

So, Canova is my first hottie of the month for 2010.