Wilhelm von Gloeden
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Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (September 16,
1856–February 16, 1931) was a German photographer who worked mainly in
Italy. He is mostly known for his pastoral nude studies of Sicilian boys,
which usually featured props such as wreaths or amphoras suggesting a
setting in the Greece or Italy of antiquity. From a modern standpoint, his
work is commendable due to his controlled use of lighting as well as the
often elegant poses of his models. Innovative use of photographic filters
and special body makeup contribute to the artistic perfection of his
Famous in his own day, his work was subsequently eclipsed for close to a
century, only to re-emerge in recent times as "the most important gay
visual artist of the pre–World War I era" according to Thomas Waugh.
Von Gloeden claimed to be minor German aristocrat from Mecklenburg.
Suffering from what appears to have been tuberculosis, he came to Taormina
in Sicily in 1876. He was wealthy, and also scrupulously shared the
proceeds of his sales with his models, providing a considerable economic
boost in this comparatively poor region of Italy, which might explain why
the homosexual aspects of his life and work were generally tolerated by
The von Gloeden family and its heirs have always insisted that no such
person existed in their family records and his claim to The Barony von
Gloeden was without warrant; the barony become extinct in 1885 with the
death of Baron Falko von Gloeden.
Von Gloeden generally made different kinds of photographs: The ones that
garnered the most widespread attention in Europe and overseas were usually
relatively chaste, featured clothes like togas and generally downplayed
their homoerotic implications.
More explicit photos in which the boys were nude and which, because of eye
contact or physical contact were more sexually suggestive were traded by
the Baron "under the counter" to close friends.
The popularity of his work in Germany, England, and America can possibly
be attributed to three major reasons:
The Classical and painterly themes in which his work wreathed itself
served as a cultural "badge of protection". At that time male-male-love
was unthinkable to many who saw his images. New printing technologies
enabled the mass reproduction and sale of his work in postcard form. In
total the Baron took over 3,000 images, which after his death were left to
one of his models, Pancrazio Buciunì, also known as Il Moro for his North
African looks. Il Moro had been Von Gloeden's lover since the age of
fourteen, when he had first joined the household of the Baron. In 1936,
over 2,500 of the pictures were destroyed by Mussolini's police under the
allegation that they constituted pornography. Most of the surviving images
therefore come from private collections.
Von Gloeden's cousin, Guglielmo Plüschow, similarly photographed male
nudes in Rome, Italy. From an artistic standpoint, Plüschow's work is
somewhat inferior to von Gloeden's as the lighting in Plüschow's works is
often too harsh and the poses of the models look quite stilted.
It is worth noting that Plüschow was already a firmly established
photographer when von Gloeden started doing photographs of his own in the
early 1890s. It is even speculated that von Gloeden was taught the (then
difficult) art of photography by Plüschow himself. However, von Gloeden
soon eclipsed Plüschow, and later works by Plüschow were frequently
erroneously attributed to von Gloeden.
Up until 1907, his assistant Vincenzo Galdi secretly made work which he
tried to pass off as von Plüschow's own. However, Galdi's pictures lack
elegance, often also feature females and generally tend to border on the