Achilles or Adonis : controversies surrounding the male body as national symbol in Georgian England
Faculty of Arts. History
Gender & history. - Oxford
, p. 77-+
University of Antwerp
This paper analyses the controversy that arose when a monumental bronze nude statue of Achilles was unveiled at Hyde Park Corner (London) in 1822 as a monument to the Duke of Wellington and his army. The neoclassical statue (made by Richard Westmacott) perfectly embodied the modern male stereotype. According to historian George Mosse, this masculine image was a powerful and stable symbol of nineteenth- and twentieth-century bourgeois societies. Intended by the commanders and artist as just such a symbol, the statue in practice was unable to express these high ideals. Ever since its unveiling, the statue has elicited laughter and ridicule. The uneasiness created by male public nudity is an aspect that Mosse missed in his history of masculine imaginary, in which he focused on certain moments of spectacular masculinity in modern Western history. Ultimately, the failure of Westmacott's Achilles can best be understood from the well-known feminist framework on the gendered economy of the gaze, a framework that is all too often absent in the historiography on masculinities.