Madonna Was on Playboy’s Cover After Her Old Art Photos Were Sold

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Playboy has a history of publishing nude or suggestive photos of celebrities which the publication itself did not take. One of those celebrities was Madonna. Playboy and Penthouse both got their hands on some old art photos of Madonna around the same time. What came next was a race to the newsstands.

Madonna Posed for Several Photographers as a Nude Model Before She Was Famous

Madonna had posed as a nude model for a few professional photographers while she was a college student at the University of Michigan. It was 1977 and Madonna, 18, still went by Madonna Louise Ciccone. She wasn’t famous yet. She just wanted to partake in some art projects and was compensated about $10-$25 an hour for her time (different sources state different dollar amounts).

The first photographer to shoot Madonna was Herman Kulkens. They’d met at a sculpture class in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The New York Times quotes Kulkens as recalling Madonna’s face as “reminded me of Cleopatra.” After Kulkens, Madonna posed for Lee Friedlander, Martin Schreiber, and Bill Stone. She was living in New York at the time and moonlighting as a figure model.

Those Photographers Recognized Madonna Later, Sold Their Photos to Playboy and Penthouse

None of these photographers realized that they were photographing a future icon. But a few years later, after Madonna starred in Desperately Seeking Susan, Lee Friedlander noticed a resemblance. Friedlander quickly struck up a conversation with Playboy cinematographer Gary Cole in order to sell some of his photos.

Around the same time, Martin Schreiber spotted Madonna on the cover of Time. He contacted his lawyer, who he shared with Lee Friedlander. The two photographers agreed to 6-figure payouts for selling their photograph rights to Playboy.

Bill Stone was also paying attention, however. While Schreiber and Friedlander were busy negotiating with Playboy, Stone struck up his own conversation with Penthouse.

Playboy and Penthouse Released Their Madonna Nudes Simultaneously in 1985

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And so, the rat race began. Penthouse and Playboy both worked to get their own issues of Madonna’s old art nudes out on the newsstands. Both were releasing their September 1985 issues, two months early. It was July 10, 1985, and both publications claimed to beat the other.

Playboy spokesperson Elizabeth Norris stated that “We beat ’em… early this morning. 6 a.m.”

Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione made a similar claim. He said, “the evidence is that the magazine is on the newsstands.” The Washington Post notes, however, that he didn’t give a specific time.

Either way, both Playboy and Penthouse released old black and white nudes of Madonna on the same exact day. But Playboy featured photos from two separate photographers, splitting up their article as “Part I: The Lee Friedlander Sessions” and “Part II: The Martin Schreiber Sessions.” Its cover read: “Madonna Nude: Unlike a Virgin… For the Very First Time.”

The result was something similar to an art book. It wasn’t your typical Playboy layout, of a woman trying to sexually arouse the reader. But it was, after all, Madonna. And Madonna has always successfully marketed her sex appeal.

Madonna’s Nude Photos Feature Natural Poses, Lots of Bush

Madonna is featured as her natural brunette self. Her eyebrows are bushy, as are her armpits and her frontal region. She’s thin, toned, and has noticeably large, natural, and perfectly symmetrical breasts, especially for her petite frame. The very first photo features her left breast, completely bare. Her hands are pensively curled under her nose, hiding half of her face. What’s left is her serious stare, which somehow is matched by the seriousness of her nipple. It’s as though Madonna has three eyes, and all of them pierce directly into your soul.

Next, we see Madonna lounging on a torn-up upholstered chair. What we see is her side profile, along with angles from her legs, and the softness of her body. The softness of the chair. None of it is lewd. She looks completely comfortable, both in the chair, and in her body.

In every photo that follows, Madonna’s breasts and hair seem to be the focal point. Every now and then we see a stern eye. There she is reaching up, her ribs poking out around a very faint 6-pack, her armpit hair spread out like wings. There she is curled up, as if she’s spacing out on the bathroom floor. Her pubic hair is large, black, and bushy.

A Black Pussy Cat Nuzzles Madonna and It’s Really Cute

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A couple of photos feature Madonna wearing high-waisted corduroys, as she’s kneeling on the floor. In one, a black cat is curled up against her belly, smiling into the camera. Madonna and the cat are having a moment. It’s as if Madonna was photographed by an invisible photographer because she looks so natural and nonchalant. In one photo, Madonna pets that cat and looks at the camera.

There is something so serene about her face, one can understand why Herman Kulkens once compared her to Cleopatra. It’s a regal sense of owning your space, your existence, and Madonna seems to have mastered that long before she became the Queen of Pop.

In one photo, Madonna is on all fours, looking at the camera. While the view may seem suggestive (the camera is pointing under her belly), it never strays from art. The same goes for the photo of Madonna lying on her side, lips slightly pursed, staring into the camera lens. It’s all quite beautiful and it could all fit well inside an art book. In fact, two of these photos were originally published in Schreiber’s art book, Bodyscapes.

Playboy’s September 1985 issue featuring Madonna was so successful that it flew off the shelves around the world. Playboy also used different covers. In the United States, Madonna was featured fully clothed in a photo from Desperately Seeking Susan. She wore high-waisted black slacks, a black camisole, and a black and yellow blazer, with a crucifix hanging around her neck. Other countries used photos of Madonna from various album covers.

Playboy’s “Madonna: The Lost Nudes” Came Out in 2015

30 years later, Playboy reused some of Schreiber’s photos of Madonna in its May 2015 issue, entitled “Madonna: The Lost Nudes.”

On the epic day that resulted in the Playboy-Penthouse double release of Madonna’s body in nude artistic form, the singer issued a statement. “I’m not ashamed of anything,” she said, unsurprisingly. After all, she worked very hard to rein in the “Sex era.” If anything, the nudes were a boost to her already rising star.

Read More: Olivia Munn Agreed to Pose for the Playboy — But Not Naked

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