Gawking at the gods

The Pirelli Calendar is more than just an excuse to gawk at the scantily clad bodies of some of the world’s most beautiful people.

It is also known as a celebration of photography, design and artistic innovation. To be asked to put it together is considered a great honour, and the list of people that have worked on these calendars in the past includes names like Annie Liebovitz, Herb Ritts and Mario Testino — not bad for something that started out decades ago as a bit of free eye-candy for motor mechanics to put up in their workrooms.

Next year’s calendar is no exception. The man behind the lens is none other than fashion designer and all-round creative darling Karl Lagerfeld.

The 2011 “Cal”, as it is known to those in the industry, is themed around the gods and heroes of Graeco-Roman mythology. Lagerfeld has chosen a black and white palette that highlights the sculptural qualities of the subjects, who depict characters from myths and legends.

The ever-modest Lagerfeld explains the theme. “What’s so brilliant about ancient paganism is that there are lots of gods, the spirits move around, and there are heroes, demigods, genii, and nymphs … Humans were much closer to the gods than they are in the monotheistic religions. In those days I had no idea that I myself would become a god!

“Joking aside, the modernity of mythology is in its love of youth, in its cult of the body, and in its acceptance of desire, without divine punishment, as well as in its permanent tribute to nature. There’s an ethics of beauty in Graeco-Roman civilisation that we’ve lost today.”

And the pictures certainly are beautiful. You don’t have to be a classics geek to appreciate the images; but a bit of background always helps.

Julianne Moore: Hera

Hera is the wife of Zeus, and is queen of the Olympian gods. She is considered to be patient and strong — virtues desirable in mothers, who she protected. She is also viciously jealous. Her husband was a notorious womaniser, and Hera was known to punish any woman he had “dealings” with, whether they were complicit or merely innocent victims. Lagerfeld chose Moore because “Julianne’s a beautiful woman — more matronly than the young girls under the olive trees”. Matronly? It’s a brave man who says that about a goddess.

Baptiste Giabiconi: Apollo

Apollo is considered the epitome of physical beauty, as well as a symbol of perfect rationality, balance and control. He is a hunter, who strikes with deadly accuracy, but his prey dies without pain or suffering. He is also the most popular god, in that there are more temples and shrines to him than there are to any other deity in the Greek pantheon. So how does Baptiste Giabiconi measure up, in depicting the Olympian heartthrob? He’ll do.

Daria Werbowy: Artemis

Artemis is the sister of Apollo and, as you can see, she is also fond of going hunting in the buff. She is the mistress of the realm between humans and nature, and later became associated with the moon. This goddess of the hunt is also a protector of virginity. So stop looking at her like that.

Elisa Sednaoui: Flora

As you can probably guess, Flora is a goddess of flowers and plants. She existed in Roman mythology, but was not particularly important, with later writers and artists deciding that she deserved greater recognition. And it’s easy to see why. A pretty girl, decorated with flowers? It just seems so obvious.

Iris Strubegger: Athena

You don’t mess with Athena. Not only is she a fearsome warrior but also the goddess of wisdom, and a goddess of virginity to boot. She was so respected and admired that she was chosen as the protector of Athens. She held sway over heroes like Achilles, and, generally, is someone you disrespect at your peril. That spear looks sharp.

Erin Wasson: Ajax

Ajax was a hero of the Trojan War, whose, name, unfortunately, is associated by most people with washing powder or football clubs. He was not a particularly likeable fellow, and his story was considered a lesson in the dangers of pride. After raping a priestess of Poseidon, the sea god, he set sail with his fleet. Poseidon, understandably angry, sent a storm that drowned his whole fleet, but Ajax survived by clinging to a rock. When Ajax then started dancing about on that rock, boasting about how the gods couldn’t hurt him (tempting fate, basically), Poseidon gave it another go, and Ajax was drowned.

So there you have it. Now you get to gawk, but look learned while you’re doing it. Go wild.

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