Why Henry VIII’s Codpiece Is So Monumental in Holbein’s Famous, Lost Portrait

Dur­ing the 15th and 16th cen­turies, fash­ion­able men sport­ed a cod­piece. Orig­i­nal­ly a gar­ment designed to pro­tect and sup­port the prover­bial “Willy” (espe­cial­ly when men wore tights), the cod­piece mor­phed into some­thing else–a sign of viril­i­ty, “a bulging and absurd rep­re­sen­ta­tion of mas­culin­i­ty itself.” The cod­piece fea­tured promi­nent­ly in paint­ings by mas­ters such as Tit­ian, Gior­gione, Bruegel and Hol­bein. Above, Evan Puschak (aka the Nerd­writer) intro­duces you to Hol­bein’s famous por­trait of Hen­ry VIII, “the poster boy for cod­pieces.”

For a deep­er dive into the sub­ject, you can read the New York­er piece “A Brief His­to­ry of the Cod­piece, the Per­son­al Pro­tec­tion for Renais­sance Equip­ment.” And to go still deep­er, see Michael Glover’s entire book ded­i­cat­ed to the sub­ject, Thrust: A Spas­mod­ic Pic­to­r­i­al His­to­ry of the Cod­piece in Art.

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Relat­ed Con­tent 

Get­ting Dressed Over the Cen­turies: 35 Videos Show How Women & Men Put on Clothes Dur­ing Ancient, Medieval & Mod­ern Times

Watch the Renais­sance Paint­ing, The Bat­tle of San Romano, Get Brought Beau­ti­ful­ly to Life in a Hand-Paint­ed Ani­ma­tion

Free Course: An Intro­duc­tion to the Art of the Ital­ian Renais­sance


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.