Michaelangelo, Gay?Recently we have been deluged with facts and speculation regarding the sex lives of various Presidents of the United States - both past and present. A favourite parlour game amongst art historians, connoisseurs, and critics is speculation regarding the sex lives of famous artists. Inevitably the conversations turns to whether or not they were homosexual or straight and the arguments one way or another as evidenced rumour, writings, facts, fiction, or by various elements in their surviving work. It is the latter of these that most fascinates us.
As an undergraduate in a rather large junior-level art history course, a female student noted that given the lopsided body count of male over female figures in the total work of Michelangelo, and the fact that even his female figures had a transsexual men-with-breasts quality, therefore the man must have been gay. The reaction of the instructor was little short of volcanic. He launched into the hapless young lady with such a vitriolic diatribe jaws dropped all over the auditorium.
Several years later as I was doing post-graduate work under the same instructor I stumbled upon the Veracci sonnets, love poems written late in Michelangelo's life to a young man possibly fifty years his junior. Remembering the outburst from before, I very cautiously mentioned them to the professor one day in his office while conferring with him regarding a paper I was writing, questioning their meaning and drawing similar inferences as had the unfortunate miss several years before. This time, perhaps realising I'd done my homework, rather than just made wild accusations, his reaction was quite different, admitting that there was a strong possibility regarding Michelangelo's homosexual preferences, while insisting that such speculation had no place in the study or discussion of the man's work. I took a deep breath and let it rest there.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
31 January 1998