Le Phallus phénoménal


Le Phallus phénoménal (1793–1794).

This blurred and discoloured picture arrives following a discussion with Paul Rumsey in the comments for an earlier post about engravings of monstrous whales. The pictures there were by engraver Hieronymus Cock whose surname gives us an additional resonance when discussing Moby Dick and sperm whales. The picture I posted of Jan Saenredam’s stranded whale showed the dead creature’s considerable penis (another engraving does the same) which led Paul to alert me to Dominique Vivant’s mischievous play on these pictures, where the artist exchanges the whale for a Brobdingnagian phallus. Or perhaps it’s merely a Gulliverian phallus and those people are Lilliputians… Whatever the case, I then mentioned to Paul JG Ballard’s story ‘The Drowned Giant’ from Ballard’s Terminal Beach collection which concerns the body of an enormous human found washed on a beach and subject to similar scrutiny by townspeople as in the stranded whale pictures. The body is eventually dissected and sold off. Paul reminded me of the end of the piece where Ballard writes:

As for the immense pizzle, this ends its days in the freak museum of a circus which travels up and down the north-west. This monumental apparatus, stunning in its proportions and sometime potency, occupies a complete booth to itself. The irony is that it is wrongly identified as that of a whale…

…which brings us full circle. Perhaps fittingly, Ballard’s story was published in Playboy magazine in 1965 under the title ‘Souvenir’.

As for Dominique Vivant (1747–1825), aka the Baron de Denon, his prestigious career besides engraving included, among other things, the directorship of the Louvre. We’re told he also wrote an erotic novel, Point de lendemain, and produced a selection of pornographic etchings, of which Le Phallus phénoménal would seem to be a part. Let no one accuse the French of being prudes; the picture above is from a site where you can order framed prints should you have a sudden urge to hang a phenomenal phallus on your wall.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales
Jan Saenredam’s whale
The Whale again
Rockwell Kent’s Moby Dick
Phallic bibelots
Phallic worship
The art of ejaculation

2 thoughts on “Le Phallus phénoménal”

  1. Hi John, – one more connection, in the book “Peek”, Photographs from the Kinsey Institute, all the photos are erotic images of the human body – except for one. This is a faded sepia photograph of a room, in one corner is a stove and on the wall a print of a ship. In the middle of the room stands a strange object that looks like a giant bean pod, its tip reaching the ceiling.
    This image looks very surreal in the middle of a book of erotic photos, and you have to turn to the index to find out what it is. It is a dried whale penis in a whaling museum.

  2. As it happens, something which struck me while reading Moby Dick is that Melville mentions every aspect of the whale’s physiology apart from its penis. This seems surprising when he insists on relating the dimensions of individual bones in a sperm whale’s body. There’s a brief allusion in Latin early on when discussing whether or not the whale is a fish (he believed it was) but that’s all.

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