Visual Art as Social Data: The Renaissance Codpiece

Essay Abstract

The enigmatic 16th-century European codpiece may have fulfilled most of the functions for penis sheathing listed by Ucko. However, the current belief that its prime function was phallic connotations of aggressive virility display is unten-able in view of the public hysteria, conflicting treatments for a dreadful, stigmatized, sexually transmitted disease which at that time overwhelmed Europe. It would seem the belief that the codpiece was a virility symbol was invented by later titillating authors (and clothing historians) who were reacting to the Puritan reaction to the sexual practices which fueled the syphilis pandemic (Strage 1980). Unchallenged acceptance of past verbal descriptions and theoretical abstractions and a tendency to analyze form and function of clothing without reexamining objective visual data continues to hamper research on the meaning of clothing and obscures an informed understanding of the cultural and social realities of the past. (Vicary, 19)

About the Author

Esteemed Dr. Vicary was a member of the Alliance for Independent Scholars in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was born in 1920 and passed away in 1992. 

Her areas of focus were gender studies, visual anthropology, art, politics, and much more ...

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