8. Marcantonio Pasqualini (1614–1691) Crowned by Apollo

Marcantonio Pasqualini (1614–1691) Crowned by Apollo. Photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in public domain

On the whole, the crowds in the Metropolitan gather around works by famous artists, but there are exceptions. This painting by Andrea Sacchi is one that catches people’s eye —probably because a big nude male is in the middle: male nudity is common in sculpture, but not in painting. Furthermore, this is a particularly arresting nude, because although obviously male, his languidly exaggerated contrapposto and puffy hairless body make him seem effeminate; his face is particularly gender-ambiguous.

Finally, there is the fact that his privates are almost in the compositional center of the painting — which is very unusual. But the nude is actually not the center of the painting’s message: the nude is the god Apollo, and he is crowning someone, clearly the subject of the portrait: Marcantonio Pasqualini, one of the great castrato singers of Baroque Rome. This probably explains the central position of the god’s genitalia, as there is an implicit contrast between the god, who has an intact manhood, and Pasqualini, who doesn’t. If that isn’t enough for you, this is not only a painting of a castrato that emphasizes his castration, it was also commissioned by his patron and probably lover, the Cardinal Antonio Barberini.