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  • Date:

    19th century (made)

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 410, box A


19th century (made)

Descriptive line

19thC; Gloeden Count W von, Seated nude Sicilian boy

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was one of the earliest gay photographers of the male nude. His best known images were enormously popular among in the Victorian age and depict young men and teenage boys acting out Homeric themes and 'classical' fantasies. Many of his other images, which once totalled over 3,000, are simple, elegant studies of the male nude. The bulk of his photographs were made between 1890 and 1914 in Taormina, Sicily, and belong to a generation of pictures that romanticized pastoral life in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Around 1000 of his glass negatives were completely destroyed by Mussolini's Fascist police in the late 1930s, and many more irreparably damaged as they were seized as evidence in a vice-squad campaign.

The Baron's wealth certainly smoothed a path towards a general tolerance over his open homosexuality in the otherwise staunchly traditional community he lived in. Not only did he employ several of his young models as domestic servants, he financed many local businesses also and funded dowries for young couples in the village to marry. Despite the village's strong Catholic dogmas, von Gloeden was thus able to procure its sons for both his camera's gaze and his sexual tourism. He also hosted guests from all over Europe, presumably for similar purposes, including Oscar Wilde. Indeed, many of his photographs were printed in postcard format, as if to capture both the cultural exoticism and sexual availability of the local boys in true souvenir fashion.

Von Gloeden's work is generally remarkable for its technical innovations in outdoor photography, and its proud homoerotic content. As much as he has been mythologized as a generous benefactor and hero of gay photography, his work is not without problems in relation to the power dynamics of his presence amongst these younger men and adolescents in an impoverished village in Sicily during the fin de siècle.

Text adapted by the LGBTQ Network from 'Encyclopedia Copyright © 2015, glbtq, Inc.'.



Subjects depicted

Homoerotic; Gay


Gender and Sexuality; LGBTQ


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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