Robert Mapplethorpe

Arnold Schwarzenegger

1976, printed 2005

Not on display

Robert Mapplethorpe 1946–1989
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Support: 341 × 341 mm
frame: 613 × 587 × 38 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008


In this full-length black and white portrait photograph, the Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger is shown semi-nude, performing a body-building pose in the artist’s studio. He is positioned to the right of the picture frame with his left hand clamped over his right wrist, allowing him to flex the muscles of his upper body. Schwarzenegger’s weight is placed on his left leg, which is relatively relaxed, while the right side of his body is tensed to the extent that his right foot almost leaves the wooden floor on which he stands. The right side of his body is tilted slightly towards the viewer, emphasising the musculature of his right bicep, thigh and calf muscles. Schwarzenegger poses in front of a blank white wall to the left of a large paisley-patterned curtain, which balances the composition. He gazes directly at the viewer with a serious, slightly blank expression.

This is one of several photographs taken by Mapplethorpe in 1976 in which Schwarzenegger is shown in the same setting performing various body-building poses (another example from this series is reproduced in Arthur C. Danto, Mapplethorpe, London 1992, p.74). Schwarzenegger had emigrated to America from Austria in 1968 and won a variety of professional men’s body-building contests, including five Mr Universe titles and seven Mr Olympia titles. This photograph was taken towards the end of his professional body-building career, shortly before he retired to dedicate himself to acting. By positioning the bodybuilder within a studio setting next to a large curtain, Mapplethorpe makes reference, possibly ironically, to the nineteenth-century Western artistic tradition of representing the nude. In this tradition, the idealised male or female body was depicted either partially clothed or naked, often with drapery similar to that of the curtain in Mapplethorpe’s photograph. As the critic Allen Ellenzweig writes: ‘[Schwarzenegger is posed] beside a fully curved drapery typical of decorative backdrops in the nude and still-life studies of the previous century.’ (Ellenzweig 1992, p.138.)

Mapplethorpe’s depiction of Schwarzenegger can be seen as both a ‘homage and a parody’, as Ellenzweig notes (Ellenzweig 1992, p.138). Moreover, as the curator Christopher Bedford has argued, the homosexual artist has transformed a ‘heterosexual male athlete into an object of his desire’ (Bedford 2010, accessed 9 March 2014). Mapplethorpe encourages the viewer to admire Schwarzenegger’s self-created musculature and bodily excess. But he also seems to poke gentle fun at it by using the heavy curtain to mimic the dramatic curvature of the athlete’s oversized body.

Further reading
Allen Ellenzweig, The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe, New York 1992, p.138.
Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe: A Biography, London 1995, pp.178, 193.
Christopher Bedford, ‘Hard Targets’, Los Angeles County Museum of Art,, paragraph 2, accessed 9 March 2014.

Matthew Macaulay
University of Edinburgh
March 2014

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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Online caption

The bodybuilder and budding actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger poses in a space rendered theatrical by a curtain that cuts the image at the top into two halves. The curve of the curtain to the left is echoed in Schwarzenegger’s pose – his extended right leg and curved right arm. It shows Mapplethorpe’s interest in the classical tradition with Schwarzenegger’s exceptionally muscular physique reminiscent of Michelangelo’s figures in the Sistine Chapel.

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