Robert Mapplethorpe

Snakeman (1981)

About this artwork

The mask and snake help to give this figure the appearance of being a satyr or (its Christian equivalent) a devil - characters and symbols of debauchery that fascinated Mapplethorpe. The twists and turns of the body and snake combined are reminiscent of Mannerist as well as Hellenistic art, subjects that interested Mapplethorpe. However, there are other precedents nearer in time. Baron von Gloeden took a photograph in around 1900 of a young man dressed up as a satyr - Mapplethorpe owned a print of this. Man Ray also photographed a female snake charmer as well as a naked woman holding up a black, African mask.

  • title: Snakeman
  • accession number: AR00193
  • artist: Robert MapplethorpeAmerican (1946 - 1989)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Photograph
  • subject: Nudity
  • medium: Gelatine silver print
  • date created: 1981
  • measurements: 44.10 x 34.20 cm (framed: 71.20 x 58.50 x 3.9 cm)
  • credit line: ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
  • copyright: © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve
This artwork is part of Artist Rooms

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe

The American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe became famous, not to say, notorious, in the 1970s and 1980s for his photographs of the male nude and sexually explicit, gay imagery. Although often considered controversial, Mapplethorpe tested the right to individual freedom of expression. These images were not meant to be titillating or obscene but beautiful in a traditionally classical way. His work, therefore, holds a significant place in the history of artistic struggle to depict the world as it is, with honesty and truth. His nudes, when considered alongside his portraits of children and flower photographs, show him to be overwhelmingly interested in the beauty and transience of life. Mapplethorpe, even when facing death from AIDS, affirmed the beauty of the here and now.