Manliness and the Visual Semiotics of Bodily Fluids in Early Modern Culture

P. Simons
2009 Journal of medieval and early modern studies  
Pissing putti, virtually always male, merrily populate the imagery of early modern visual culture, from illuminated manuscripts to tableware, frescoed walls to working fountains. Their very ubiquity and charm has perhaps inured us to the valence of masculine bravado conveyed by the imagery. In particular, the exuberant jet nearly always issues from a babe shown standing erect, and the discharge of fluid is accentuated by forcefulness and exhibitionism. Furthermore, in early modern European
more » ... re, the fluids emitted by the blatant male organ were often considered interchangeable, and visual as well as verbal jokes were made about urine, semen, water, and wine. In a medical system determined by attention to the physiology and variability of the humors alongside the fixed taxonomy of forms, the sexual economy was as much characterized by liquidity as it was obsessed with penile penetration. Pissing and standing might appear meaningless and uninteresting, but such overlooked acts, I argue, indicate that the somatics and semiotics of early modern masculinity consisted of more than sexual intromission or inhibiting anxiety, and that visual metaphors presented manliness in ways that were often humorous, usually public, and always assertive. Erection
doi:10.1215/10829636-2008-025 fatcat:pcjc4l3cxvgwddoxc2tcjknvwu