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The Ancient Olympics in Art

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This year’s Olympics in Tokyo are, without a doubt, the gayest Olympics in modern history. At last count, more than 180 out LGBTQ athletes were participating in this year’s games, and “Team LGBTQ” was in eighth place with 22 medals. Only a small minority of those participants are men, and the medal count reflects that: So far, only two out gay men have won medals: Tom Daley’s gold in diving, and Carl Hester’s bronze in dressage.

Yet when not competing, today’s Olympians are more demure than ever. As Outsports reported, “male rowers now wear loose pants and medal ceremonies after 2012 bulge pics went viral.” This was not, of course, always the case. Ancient Greek athletes exercised in the nude, and with the exception of the chariot race, the ancient Olympic and Panathenaic Games were also conducted naked.

Artists, moreover, have long been comfortable depicting athletes au naturel. In ancient Greek and Roman statuary and vase paintings, runners, discus throwers, wrestlers, boxers, and javelin throwers are all depicted in the buff. True to life, only chariot racers are shown clothed. Artists of later centuries continued this convention, from eighteenth-century academic drawings to nineteenth-century stop-motion photography and painting, sculpture, and other media of all periods.

Herewith, a selection of athletic male nudes dating from the sixth century B.C. to the twentieth century A.D. Enjoy!

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