March 6, 1475 – Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
I am so very lucky indeed; I have seen his work, not just in Art History 101, but up close and personal. In Italy.
He was born in Florence as Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. His statue of David (1504) in Florence and his frescoes in The Vatican’s Sistine Chapel (1512), which took four years to complete, are among the most famous works of art in the world. David is certainly the most famous naked man of all time, endlessly reproduced, yet most of his other works have had perhaps even greater impact on the world of Art.
During his time, Florence was the center of the Italian Renaissance, a rebirth of appreciation for Ancient Greek and Roman thought and sculpture. So extraordinary were the talents of the young Michelangelo, that he caught the attention of Lorenzo de Medici, whose profile-name on Latin Tindr was ”Lorenzo the Magnificent”. Medici was the head of a fabulously wealthy powerful merchant family and a famous benefactor to the Arts. At his private villa and gardens, Lorenzo created an artists’ retreat. An integral part of this milieu was an appreciation of beauty, principally the physical beauty of the male body, the male being the one who could come closer to God, along with a revival of the ideal of Athenian boy-love; the practice of older gentlemen guiding boys into manhood with a little sex on the side.
Many of his drawings, paintings and sculptures are homoerotic, to say the least. Michelangelo had relationships with many of his young models: Gherardo Perini, the nobleman Tommaso Cavalieri, Cecchino dei Bracci, and a rent boy by the name of Febo di Poggio. He referred to Febo as ”my little blackmailer” because Febo demanded money, clothes, and gifts in return for love.
Perini lived with Michelangelo for more than a decade. Bracci was only 13-years-old when the 66-year-old Michelangelo fell for him. Two years later, when Bracci died, Michelangelo was so devastated that he wrote epitaphs for his youthful lover’s tomb for an entire year, such as:
The earthy flesh, and here my bones,
Deprived of handsome eyes, and charming air,
Do yet attest how gracious I was in bed,
When he embraced, in whom my soul now lives.
Michelangelo wrote 48 epigrams commemorating the adoration of Bracci.
The drawings of Cavalieri, with legs spread wide and thighs for days are unrivaled in erotic impact. Cavalieri was a handsome young nobleman whom Michelangelo met in 1532 when the artist was 57-years-old and Cavalieri was 23-years-old. Michelangelo described Cavalieri as: ”… light of our century, paragon of all the world”. There is only one definitive surviving portrait of him, a superb drawing of Cavalieri that veers into decadence, the beautiful boy dressed in female clothes; anticipating the modern idea of shocking pop-culture gender fucks.
Cavalieri was the essence of Michelangelo’s idea of masculine beauty. In one of his many poems to Cavalieri, Michelangelo wrote:
”Here in your lovely face I see, my lord, what in this life no words could ever tell; with that, although still clothed in flesh, my soul has often already risen up to God.”
For Michelangelo, in Cavalieri, art met life. He was the image of the perfect man on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel actualized. Yet, like his art, Michelangelo mixed desire with religious fervor.
Michelangelo wrote 300 beautiful, astounding sonnets to the young man that became a much-loved book after his death. Michelangelo wrote love letters to him and in 1533 sent him a series of erotic drawings, the most famous of which depicts Zeus disguised as an eagle abducting a young Ganymede. In Michelangelo’s drawing, the eagle presses its body tightly against the back of the smiling, yielding Ganymede.
Michelangelo’s poems to Cavalieri are extravagant:
Your name nourishes my heart and soul filling each with such sweetness
If my eyes had their share of you, only think how happy I would be.
Were I two slippers he could own and
Use as base to his majestic weight,
I would enjoy two snowy feet at least.
If I must be defeated to be blessed,
Don’t marvel that one, naked and alone,
Should prove a prisoner of an armored knight
The love I speak of aspires to the heights;
Woman is too dissimilar, and it ill becomes
a wise and manly heart to burn for her.
Michelangelo’s correspondence, poetry and diaries that refer to his passion for other men were suppressed for centuries, and his love poems written to Cavalieri were censored by his own publisher, who changed the gender from male to female to avoid scandal. In one sonnet, Michelangelo wrote that the highest form of love must be with a man, not a woman, because: ”a woman is not worthy of a wise and virile heart”. Well, that would never go over today, but things were different during The Renaissance.
Michelangelo painted and sculpted a lot of beefcake. The Sistine Chapel ceiling is awash in paired male nudes. There are 48 naked boys depicting cherubs alongside 24 mostly naked youths, 16 adult male nudes supporting the Medallions, 16 bronze male nudes flanking the Ancestors, plus the famous 20 ”Ignudi”, seated males depicted as young, completely naked men. None of these figures has any relevance to any Christian narrative. They are on the ceiling because Michelangelo was besotted with masculinity. Even his female figures had rather masculine bodies and look like men only by their longer hair.
After 1534, Michelangelo gave up painting and turned his attention almost exclusively to architecture. He became the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which had already been under construction for forty years. The massive dome he designed for St. Peter’s is among the greatest architectural and engineering feats of all time. The dome he designed for St Peter’s influenced the building of churches for centuries, including Sant’ Andrea della Valle in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, plus domes of many public buildings and the state capitals across the USA. Michelangelo’s red chalk drawings of his trademark radial columns for St. Peter’s were not unearthed in The Vatican archives until 2007. What else is The Vatican sitting on?
He spent much of his lengthy career creating colossal works of art for seven consecutive Popes. He was put in charge of the restoration of St. Peter’s by Pope Paul III in 1546, a job he held until his death.
Michelangelo drew much of his knowledge of male anatomy from his frequent visits to gay brothels, bathhouses tucked away in the maze of cobbled alleyways around Italy. He was attracted to virile bodies of laborers engaged in physical exertion, with their taut muscles, strenuous exertion and pain etched into the expression on their faces. Like modern day bathhouses, they had many rooms where people could take hot and cold baths and get massages. And then there were other, secluded rooms, places where Renaissance dudes could get it on with other Renaissance dudes.
The Last Judgment, which took Michelangelo four years to complete, covers the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. Painted between 1537 and 1541, it is a depiction of The Apocalypse, with human souls either rising to Heaven or descending to Hell, according to Christ’s judgment. One of the damned is dragged down to Hell by his balls, and among those who are blessed there are kisses and embraces that are totally gay.
Michelangelo’s explicit depiction of naked male bodies caused outrage in the Roman Catholic Church when the fresco was unveiled, with the artist accused of indecency and obscenity. Biagio da Cesena, the papal master of ceremonies, said the frescos were more suited to “public baths and taverns than to a place of worship“.
After the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art in the mid-16th century, the artist Daniele da Volterra was commissioned to paint over the men’s junk and earned the nickname “Il Braghettone”, the painter of pants.
Michelangelo seems to have more inhibited about his sexuality than Leonardo da Vinci, who in 1476 was charged with sodomy, but Leonardo lived in Florence and Michelangelo in Rome, nearly a generation later, and the time and place were not as permissive.
Michelangelo left this world in Rome in 1564. He worked until a few days before his death at 88-years-old. He was so famous in his own era that he became the first Western artist of whom a biography was published during his lifetime. His body was taken from Rome for interment at the Basilica of Santa Croce, fulfilling his final request to be buried in his beloved Florence.
The Agony And The Ecstasy (1965), directed by Carol Reed, starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II, de-gays the artists and the pontiff, of course.