Moromania and exotic masculinity in Spanish painting around 1900

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Following the Spanish-Moroccan war 1859/60, figures of handsome, often effeminate ‘exotic’ men abound in the work of the Rome-based artists Fortuny, Villegas Cordero, and Fabrés. Rejecting traditional ideas of masculinity, their iconographies arguably represent the “feminine masculine” (as defined by A. Solomon-Godeau): semi-nude males with glistening dark skin, surrounded by a profusion of exotic artefacts of variant textures and materials. The libidinal economy of such pictures arises from the sensual body of the ‘oriental’ man, posturing as Venus, or recalling Greek sculpture. Why did such subjects become so popular, almost eclipsing representations of ‘exotic’ women in Spanish painting? On the one hand, such images relate to anxieties caused by Spain’s loss of political/military power and relations with Morocco. But they were also mediated by the increasing confusion about gender roles. In fact, the ‘feminine masculine’ extended to non-Orientalist subjects in Fortuny, Fabrés and Villegas, and arguably had its basis in the artists’ own ‘homosociality’. Their refashioning of masculinity—a self-conscious, frivolous, and playful exaggeration of gender attributes—reaches its peak with the homoerotic paintings by Gabriel Morcillo, which emerged out of a homosexual sub-culture in early 20th-century Granada.

Period27 Mar 2019
Held atGeorg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Spanish painting
  • Ninteenth century
  • gender
  • Post colonial
  • Orientalism