Uffizi Is Suing Pornhub After It Turns Masterpieces Into Live Porn

“Today I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” purrs the Hungarian porn star Cicciolina in a video. “Some of the best porn of all time isn’t on Pornhub. It can only be found in a museum.” The promotional campaign for the company’s new “Classic Nudes” initiative preaches what art historians have long known: the canon is rife with saucy scenes that rival even today’s sex-saturated visual culture.

Pornhub vows to guide viewers swiftly past “all the prude paintings” and take them “directly to the good stuff” on a dedicated website and app, which features hardcore reenactments of sexy works housed in six major museums by an amateur couple known by the monicker MySweetApple. In their riff on Edgar Degas’s “Male Nude” (1856), in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Impressionist painter’s sprawled sitter gets a blowjob; Adam and Eve are caught “eating the forbidden fruit” in a scintillating reimagining of Jan Gossaert’s Northern Renaissance canvas, housed at the National Gallery in London.

Edgar Degas, “Male Nude” (1856), in the collection of the Met in New York. “Like most dick pics, there’s really no storyline here,” says a text on Pornhub’s “Classic Nudes” website. (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

But Pornhub’s attempt to heat up art history has not been met with universal arousal by the institutions whose prized artworks were chosen for this noble mission: the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has taken legal action against the free porn provider, claiming that the company used its images and other content without permission.

In an email to Hyperallergic, a Uffizi Gallery representative confirmed that the museum is suing Pornhub over copyright infringement. A video of MySweetApple interpreting Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” (1538), owned by Uffizi, now appears as “currently unavailable,” though an image of the work remains on the website.

That’s also the case for a page dedicated to Boucher’s “The Brunette Odalisque” (1745) at the Louvre, a painting Pornhub calls “one of the most casual ass-flashes” in its repertoire. The Daily Beast reported the Louvre had similar plans to sue the company, but an editor’s note says the museum decided against it after the publication of the article; a spokesperson told Hyperallergic that “to date, no legal action has been planned.”

Kitagawa Utamaro’s “Fujin sogaku jittai” (1802-1803), according to Pornhub, is “a woodblock print of a girl washing her hair so blissfully that she hasn’t noticed the monumental nip-slip.” (via Wikimedia Commons)

In all fairness, “Classic Nudes” is more than just a porn site. Only six of the 31 artworks depicted are reenacted; the remaining 25 are accompanied by racy but SFW descriptions that attempt to bridge sex and art scholarship, accessibly deciphering the visual symbols of the masters (the young bride in Titian’s painting, for instance, “poses his model in the Venus pudica — which is art speak for the muff-shield pose,” the text reads.) There’s also a section on the website dedicated to art depicting a more diverse selection of nude figures than those portrayed in Western masterpieces, such as Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro’s prints of so-called “hotties.”

In a press release, the company said it wanted to help museums hard-hit by pandemic lockdowns by “stimulating the public to visit, explore and fall back in love (or lust) with these cultural institutions.” This benevolent messaging, it should be noted, comes amid a slew of unsavory headlines about the company, which has been accused of profiting from child pornography and revenge porn, among other content.

“Like the Greeks, the Ancient Romans had a casual attitude toward a friendly game of hide the sausage between two male pals,” says Pornhub’s of the Roman marble “Wrestlers” at the Uffizi Gallery. (image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Met and the National Gallery have both said they do not plan on pursuing legal actions against the company for featuring images of their works on “Classic Nudes.”

“The museum’s Open Access program provides public access to hundreds of thousands of images of works in our collection, and we generally do not seek to regulate the wide range of uses of these images,” Kenneth Weine, chief communications officer at the Met, told Hyperallergic. A National Gallery representative told Hyperallergic that the museum “hasn’t collaborated with Pornhub on this campaign, and  will not be taking any action that directly or indirectly raises awareness of this project.”

The two remaining institutions selected by Pornhub, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, have not yet provided comment.

So far, the Uffizi has publicly objected only to Pornhub’s unauthorized commercial use of their content, and not necessarily to the, um, titillating ways in which that content was used. This reinforces a message always worth repeating: in the world of image licensing, as in sex, consent matters.

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