Several years ago, a friend of mine took a trip to Italy. This was before I first went to Italy myself. When she came back she brought me a souvenir. It was a small statue of Michelangelo's David. She said that she wanted to bring me back the perfect man. She thought there was no better gift for me, and I have to agree. David is perfection in beauty.
So for today’s post I wanted to feature two of my favorite Renaissance artists. Both of whom are believed to have been gay. The first is Michelangelo (the other is Michelangelo also, but a different one).
Michelangelo was born March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Republic of Florence and died Feb. 18, 1564, in Rome, Papal States. He was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. He served a brief apprenticeship with Domenico Ghirlandaio in Florence before beginning the first of several sculptures for Lorenzo de'Medici. After Lorenzo's death in 1492, he left for Bologna and then for Rome. There his Bacchus (1496 – 97) established his fame and led to a commission for the Pietà (now in St. Peter's Basilica), the masterpiece of his early years, in which he demonstrated his unique ability to extract two distinct figures from one marble block. His David (1501 – 04), commissioned for the cathedral of Florence, is still considered the prime example of the Renaissance ideal of perfect humanity. On the side, he produced several Madonnas for private patrons and his only universally accepted easel painting, The Holy Family (known as the Doni Tondo). Attracted to ambitious sculptural projects, which he did not always complete, he reluctantly agreed to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508 – 12). The first scenes, depicting the story of Noah, are relatively stable and on a small scale, but his confidence grew as he proceeded, and the later scenes evince boldness and complexity. His figures for the tombs in Florence's Medici Chapel (1519 – 33), which he designed, are among his most accomplished creations. He devoted his last 30 years largely to the Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel, to writing poetry (he left more than 300 sonnets and madrigals), and to architecture. He was commissioned to complete St. Peter's Basilica, begun in 1506 and little advanced since 1514. Though it was not quite finished at Michelangelo's death, its exterior owes more to him than to any other architect. He is regarded today as among the most exalted of artists.
Fundamental to Michelangelo's art is his love of male beauty, which attracted him both aesthetically and emotionally. In part, this was an expression of the Renaissance idealization of masculinity. But in Michelangelo's art there is clearly a sensual response to this aesthetic.
The sculptor's expressions of love have been characterized as both Neoplatonic and openly homoerotic; recent scholarship seeks an interpretation which respects both readings, yet is wary of drawing absolute conclusions. One example of the conundrum is Cecchino dei Bracci, whose death, only a year after their meeting in 1543, inspired the writing of forty eight funeral epigrams, which by some accounts allude to a relationship that was not only romantic but physical as well:
La carne terra, e qui l'ossa mia, prive
de' lor begli occhi, e del leggiadro aspetto
fan fede a quel ch'i' fu grazia nel letto,
che abbracciava, e' n che l'anima vive.
The flesh now earth, and here my bones,
Bereft of handsome eyes, and jaunty air,
Still loyal are to him I joyed in bed,
Whom I embraced, in whom my soul now lives.
The greatest written expression of his love was given to Tommaso dei Cavalieri (c. 1509–1587), who was 23 years old when Michelangelo met him in 1532, at the age of 57. Cavalieri was open to the older man's affection: I swear to return your love. Never have I loved a man more than I love you, never have I wished for a friendship more than I wish for yours. Cavalieri remained devoted to Michelangelo until his death.
The sonnets are the first large sequence of poems in any modern tongue addressed by one man to another, predating Shakespeare's sonnets to his young friend by fifty years.
I feel as lit by fire a cold countenance
That burns me from afar and keeps itself ice-chill;
A strength I feel two shapely arms to fill
Which without motion moves every balance.
(Michael Sullivan, translation)