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'The top 10 sexiest works of art ever’

Jack-In-The-Pulpit by Robert Mapplethorpe
"Flowers" by Robert Mapplethorpe, Publisher: Bulfinch Pr; 1st edition (October 1990)

The writing of British art critic Jonathan Jones is a read I usually go along with, but not this time.

This time, Jones made lists of his art favorites - “The top 10 sexiest works of art ever” and “The top 10 males nudes in art” – none of which would be mine. Not even one.

Given our gender difference, our picks would probably differ, particularly if by sexiest, Jones means most seductive. His choices are all images of women, except for Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photo of Charles Bowman, said to be inspired by Michelangelo.

But neither man nor woman would make my list for “sexiest works of art.” Instead, my picks would center on the reproductive parts of flowers that are male as Mapplethorpe pictured them. (More about that in a moment).

Jones says that his choice for “sexiest” - the grinning nude boy with angel wings in Caravaggio’s “Cupid as Victor” - evokes “the power of desire.” This was probably true for Caravaggio, the model for Cupid being his boyfriend. But Jones goes too far when he says, “Caravaggio's anarchistic tribute to the destructive power of desire – the stuff of civilization lies defeated at Cupid's feet – is eternally worrying.“

Really, Jonathan?

Odder still is Jones’ choice of Donatello’s David. To hear him tell it, “No modern image is more blatantly sexual than Donatello's 15th-century statue of a naked youth, his smooth flesh set off by tight boots as he rests a foot in the soft hair of the slain Goliath. Androgynous and overtly teasing, it makes you self-conscious to look too long at this magnetic work in the Bargello Museum, in Florence…It throbs with ecstasy and danger.”

Oh, come on!

Donatello’s unclad David wears a foppish hat, soft and decorative with a stance that is also soft, even a bit mincing. Hardly the stuff of “ecstasy.” If you get off on this image, Jonathan, I take my hat off (Rays ball cap) to you.

Now let’s talk flower power.

Maybe it’s because the stamen and pistil in Mapplethorpe’s photos resemble the male sex organs of humans that give them their sexually charged air. I’m thinking of Mapplethorpe’s 1987 shot of a Calla Lily in bloom, which shows the pistil poking up from within its petals and appearing to pulsate that strikes me as downright carnal.

In a similar way, Mapplethorpe’s 1988 portrait of the tall and erect herbaceous plant known as Jack-In-The-Pulpit comes across as a vision of virility.

Maybe Mapplethorpe didn’t consciously know that flower anatomy holds the same biological function for reproduction as we do. Reportedly, he didn’t even like flowers. But his photos make clear that he recognized the physical similarities between the species, and the mind (well, my mind, at least) is stirred as his must have been by the alikeness.

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