Art History’s Most Outrageous Beards and Mustaches
Distinguished mustaches and tendrilous beards have captivated artists since the dawn of civilization. They likewise serve as consummate emblems for the concurrent, annual men’s health awareness initiatives known as No-Shave November and Movember. The open discussion of male cancers and mental health remains taboo. Both organizations encourage participants to spread the word and raise funds by mustering their thickest, longest, shapeliest ’staches and beards. In honor of the cause, we’ve compiled a list of seven commanding facial hairstyles painted and sculpted across the centuries.
Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk (early 1500s)
Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk, ca. 1510–15. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
History remembers Leonardo da Vinci for his unprecedented contributions to fine art, engineering, and multiple scientific disciplines. In addition to his virtuosic eye for rendering the human form, the Renaissance polymath conceived of sophisticated contraptions—from flying machines to scuba gear—long before they came to fruition. His surviving self-portrait depicts a thick, voluminous beard fit to match that exceptional brain.
Michelangelo, Moses (ca. 1513–15)
Petrified in Carrara marble is a beard so mighty, it could only suit a figure of biblical proportions. Michelangelo’s Moses, who towers at a seated height of approximately eight feet, is a thoroughly imposing likeness of the ancient prophet. Supreme musculature and God-given commandments aside, Moses’s beard is truly divine.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn (1573)
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn, 1573. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
A whimsical assemblage of harvest crops constitutes the profile of a man sprouting a whole-wheat beard. Pieced together by Giuseppe Arcimboldo—the Milanese painter known for his clever composite heads made from interlocking fruits, vegetables, seafood, and household objects—Autumn’s facial foliage is an eccentric anomaly on the beard continuum.
Unknown artist, Portrait of Barbara van Beck (late 1640s)
Unknown artist, Portrait of Barbara van Beck, late 1640s. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Barbara van Beck’s legendary facial hair would put most Movember entrants to shame. Likely afflicted with hypertrichosis, a genetic disorder characterized by uncontrollable hair growth all over the face and body, the 17th-century Bavarian “bearded lady” capitalized on her ultra-rare condition by touring around Europe and baffling those she met with her lustrous locks.
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889)
The whirls and curls of Joseph Roulin’s sumptuous beard unfurl harmoniously with the kaleidoscopic wallpaper behind him in this affectionate portrait by Vincent van Gogh. Roulin was the local postman, Van Gogh’s neighbor, and friend in the southern French city of Arles, where the otherwise reclusive painter lived—including several tumultuous weeks with Paul Gauguin as his roommate—before committing himself to an insane asylum in Saint-Rémy de Provence.
Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q. (1919)
Leave it to Marcel Duchamp to slap a handsome mustache-goatee combo on art history’s most precious face. This ever-so-slightly altered reproduction of the Mona Lisa is titled L.H.O.O.Q. andpronounced phonetically in French as “elle a chaud au cul,” which roughly translates to “she has a hot ass.” The French farceur likely intended no genuine disrespect to Leonardo or his magnum opus. After all, neither urinal nor masterpiece was impervious to Duchamp’s mockery.
Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (1972)
While women everywhere reach for the bleach, Havana-born performance artist Ana Mendieta defiantly glued beard hairs to her face. In 1972, Mendieta documented the collection, assemblage, and self-application of real beard trimmings for Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), a series of gender-bending photographs that marked the inception of her fearlessly subversive, body-altering practice.