Sexiest Classic Statues

Carved in stone, but smoldering with passion!

Above: Close-up of the Farnese Hercules (3rd century AD), holding the apples of Hesperides, at the National Archeological Museum, Naples. Home page/Art page: Close-up of David (1623–24), by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, at the Galleria Borghese, Rome.

BY: Howard Karren

Though all of these powerful figures are “classic” statues, they actually are art from many different eras, from truly classical times in ancient Greece and Rome, to the classical-revival works of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, to the neoclassical stylings of the Romantic era. The cutoff is modern times—nothing after 1900. Except for one statue in the Hermitage in Russia, all of them are in Italy and France. We may be centered in Western Civilization here at PROVOKR, but these mostly naked bodies in stone are the sexiest we found the world over.



David (1501-04), by Michelangelo. Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence. Nothing says Renaissance like Michelangelo’s David, the most awe-inspiring and iconic statue ever made. After centuries of medieval religious art, Renaissance geniuses like Michelangelo took a Bible story such as David and Goliath and made the human element central. In Michelangelo’s version of the mythic tale, it is David who is the giant—17 feet tall—unabashedly muscular, confident and godlike, a resplendently proportioned winner. And let’s face it: he’s hot.



The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52), by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. The moment the great Baroque sculptor Bernini chose to dramatize with this (literally) ecstatic sculpture of the nun Teresa is ostensibly one of religious epiphany. As Teresa herself described it, an angel stabbed her with his spear of gold: “He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God.” Bernini interprets Teresa’s vision as undeniably erotic, with orgasmic ripples of marble spiraling out from her heart.



Apollo and Daphne (1622-25), by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Galleria Borghese, Rome. Sometimes the greatest passion is found in a love that cannot be consummated. Basing his statue on a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Bernini presents Apollo in pursuit of the nymph Daphne. Both have been struck by arrows from Cupid; Apollo is filled with desire but Daphne, fated by a love-repelling arrow, must deny the love of men. As Apollo embraces her, she prays to her father, Peneus, to save her by changing her body, and she is transformed into a tree. In almost luminescent marble, Bernini shows the leaves growing out of her; instead of deadening, the passion seems to be exploding out of her skin.



Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (1787), by Antonio Canova. Louvre, Paris. For a masterful Romantic-era sculptor like Canova, neoclassical subjects no longer had to be cloaked in piety. He portrays Cupid’s kiss of Psyche, which revives her out of a deep sleep, as pure tenderness and elation, and expresses it with arched forms of arms and wings—his hands on her breasts and head, hers gently caressing his hair.



David (1623-24), by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Galleria Borghese, Rome. What a difference a century makes: Bernini’s Baroque version of David, unlike Michelangelo’s Renaissance figure, is a man of action. He’s not posing or triumphant, but caught twisting his body to throw a stone at Goliath. His muscles and his facial expression are wrapped up in this swirling movement. For Bernini, David’s masculine grace is part and parcel of his heroic mission—he’s an athlete, not an idealized, godlike youth. And yet, in a gritty way, he’s just as attractive.



The Dying Gaul (3rd century BC). Capitoline Museums, Rome. This remarkable ancient sculpture, which has inspired many generations of artists, is a Roman copy of a Greek original (probably a bronze). First thought to be the figure of a fallen gladiator, it was later recognized as a Celtic soldier. But either way, the statue’s realism is striking for a work thousands of years old: the Gaul’s dying stance is poignant, to be sure (a sword wound is visible on his chest), but he is vividly alive in his facial expression, in the muscles of his limbs and, most of all, in his utter nakedness. There’s something ineffably vulnerable and erotic about it.



The Three Graces (1813-16), by Antonio Canova. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. As with his Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, Canova’s Three Graces takes a classical subject—ancient goddesses who embody feminine charms—and gives it a distinctly Romantic form. The women interact with one another, touching and leaning and opening up emotionally. Their sensuousness is palpable. Created when Canova was already a celebrated artist, the statue was instantly lusted after: “It is more beautiful than beauty itself.”



Farnese Hercules (3rd century AD), by Glykon. National Archeological Museum, Naples. This Roman copy of a Greek original—by Lysippos in the 4th century BC—was created for the magnificent Baths of Caracalla in Rome. It shows the outlandishly muscled demigod, Hercules, resting, having performed the Twelve Labors, one of which was killing a lion (he’s leaning on a lion skin), and the last of which was stealing apples from the Garden of the Hesperides (he’s holding a few in the hand behind his back—see close-up at top). This massive marble statue is the ultimate embodiment of virility and, like the Romans, brazenly erotic.



Bather (1757), by Étienne Maurice Falconet. Louvre, Paris. The cusp of womanhood is a frequent subject of French artists, and this exquisite work by Falconet, done in the Neoclassical style, may be the perfect expression of nubile beauty. His Bather is tentatively sexual and still largely innocent, slender and waif-like, balancing with a dancer’s grace as she pushes forward to touch the water.



Aphrodite of Knidos (4th century BC), by Praxiteles. Roman copy: Colonna Venus, Vatican Museum, Rome. The ancient Greeks and Romans, who were not repressed about glorifying male sexuality, were less willing to deal with women the same way. The Aphrodite of Knidos, which was destroyed in 475 AD, is the first known monumental Greek female nude. The best and most faithful remaining copy, the Roman Colonna Venus, is thoroughly alluring. It may not have the realism of the Dying Gaul or the power of the Farnese Hercules, but Aphrodite/Venus wears her nudity like a birthright, in a very engaging pose.