Monday, May 12, 2008

Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden: Part III

As part of the series of Journal entries about contemporary alternative gay male art versus traditional gay male art I explore the history and relationship of photography in general to gay male photography in particular. I wrote Part I and II of Wilhelm von Gloeden on April 20, 2008, and April 12, 2008.
Aesthetics, Colonization and Perception

Wilhelm Von Gloeden’s photographs of boys and young men are steeped in a classical mystique through the use of body make-up, props and various manipulative photographic techniques. The fortuitous use of the landscape and classical ruins around Taormina itself provided an authentic ancient Roman vista. The purposeful manipulation of these elements created an Arcadian flair that appealed to a late Victorian and Edwardian sentiment.

The recent late 19th Century invention of the terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual” among others had just begun to allow a cultural misunderstanding of a segment of the population as “abnormal” sexually, and the homosexual as “other” was a new perception, perhaps not yet conscious in most Victorian and Edwardian minds. * Thus, an organized homosexual underground network was a relatively recent development. Because of these factors, Von Gloeden’s erotic photographs of young men were perceived for their aesthetic merits by most of the population. Only those educated and worldly men with the financial wherewithal who had sex with men whether homosexual, bisexual, or pansexual understood the erotic content of the photographs.

Von Gloeden as Perceived by the Citizens of Taormina

Wilhelm, however sickly must have had a powerful, and commanding presence. He had to have also been a caring person because the local residents of Taormina still refer to him affectionately as “The Baron.” Additionally, the young men he had sex with, no matter their actual sexual proclivities, often became lifelong friends. Realizing that “the Baron’s” money must have been extremely persuasive, I also refuse to use the standard Postmodern term “colonization” to describe von Gloeden’s sexual and financial activity in Taormina, because that terminology is at its worst, elitist, and at its best contributes to a limited perception of the social, cultural, and human dynamics of the time. In short, “colonization” as an esoteric term is condescending to the people, and that time and place in which humankind were perhaps less self-conscious about human sexuality. Suffice it to say that Wilhelm bon Gloeden literally put Taormina on the map, that he also employed his models as servants, put some in various businesses, and paid the dowries for at least several of their marriages. One model, Pancrazio Bucini became Wilhelm’s trusted assistant, and partner in life. In fact, upon Von Gloeden’s death in 1931, Bucini “Il Moro” received the entire estate. However, much of the photographic work was lost when the Fascist government confiscated and destroyed most of the files during the course of several raids and Bucini’s arrest from 1931 to 1936. Amazingly, Bucini defended himself in court and won. His heirs and descendents still possess over 300 of Von Gloeden’s photographic plates. *1 Thus, the good citizens of Taormina saw Von Gloeden, and, see him to this day, as a generous and kind, if somewhat eccentric member of their community.


*In 1889 Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his extremely influential Psychopathia Sexualis used the terms heterosexual and homosexual which he borrowed from an earlier book on human sexuality by Gustav J├Ąger, who had in tern borrowed these from a group of terms for various human sexualities coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1869.

*1 Koymasky, Andre and Matt, “Wilhelm Von Gloeden – The Boys of Taormina,” The Living Room, © Matt and Andrei Koymasky 1997 – 2005, viewed 8:43 AM EST, March 3, 2008.


Von Gloeden, Wilhelm, and Pohlmann, Ulrich, Authors, Wilhelm von Gloeden: Taormina. Hamburg, Munich and New York: teNeues Publishing Company (1998).

Yahoo,, Von Gloeden., viewed 9:33 AM EDT, Saturday, May 10, 2008.

Goldman, Jason, “Gloeden, Wilhelm von, Baron,” glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Culture. © 2002, glbtq, Inc., last updated October 29, 2006, viewed 10:02 AM EDT, Saturday, May 10, 2008.

Koymasky, Andre and Matt, “Wilhelm Von Gloeden – The Boys of Taormina,” The Living Room, © Matt and Andrei Koymasky 1997 – 2005, viewed 8:43 AM EST, March 3, 2008.

* Wilhelm von Gloeden, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia., modified 7:55 AM., April 12, 2008, viewed 9:38 AM EDT, Saturday, May 10, 2008.


justin.easter said...

Dr. John Bittinger Klomp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. John Bittinger Klomp said...

I have published this comment above, because it does relate to Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden, though I am perturbed that you, Justin Easter, did not have the decency to ask permission to publish what amounts to an advertisement for your own work in my journal. I hope that in the future, you would do so. If you notice, I do not have any advertising, no commercialism present in my journal.

Byron Black said...

Yes thanks for the exposition on the Baron's noteworthy residence in Taormina - and his prolific, and justly-famed, photographic work. I have often pondered on how he would have been persecuted, and prosecuted, for carrying on as he did were he alive today. It's a grim world with little tolerance for the proclivities of von G. and his naughty cousin in Rome. I would consider the "artistic heir" of the Baron to be the digital artist Antoine Schaub ("Anthony-Art") whose work you can see on the deviant-art website. Hope you are having a dry and warm winter wonderland. Sounds very exciting now in that part of the world.