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Caravaggio (1571-1610)  
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Caravaggio and Post-Stonewall Gay Culture

Little wonder that post-Stonewall gay popular culture has responded so warmly to Caravaggio's work. An in-your-face male sexuality that refuses to apologize for itself has made paintings such as Boy with a Basket of Fruit, The Musicians, Bacchus, and especially Victorious Amor increasingly popular in gay design.

In one of the most illuminating examples of historical gay intertextuality, poet Thom Gunn has fashioned several poems as responses to specific Caravaggio paintings. And in his film-meditation upon Caravaggio's life and creative processes (Caravaggio, 1986), director Derek Jarman presents the painter as the quintessential gay artist, the cursed poet whose brilliant yet unconventional artistic vision and intense personal life unsettle his contemporaries, making him a source of unease as well as fascination.

When filming Caravaggio's painting David with the Head of Goliath, Jarman--in a gesture of gay and artistic identification--placed his own face on the head of the defeated giant, as Caravaggio had earlier placed his own.

Raymond-Jean Frontain

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arts >> Overview:  European Art: Baroque

From about 1590 through the first decades of the eighteenth century, Baroque artists challenged the decorum of Renaissance art; but the period was also a time of intolerance and persecution.

arts >> Overview:  European Film

Since the 1960s, European film has included significant gay-themed films, many of them directed by openly gay and lesbian directors.

social sciences >> Overview:  Papacy

The history of the papacy's attitudes toward same-sex relationships is more complex than the virulently antigay pronouncements of the most recent popes would lead one to believe.

arts >> Overview:  Patronage I: The Western World from Ancient Greece until 1900

Patronage--the sponsorship of artists and the commissioning of artistic projects from them--is of central importance to cultural history.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: David and Jonathan

It is not surprising, since the Bible insists that David be looked at and admired, that he should emerge in Western art as the incarnation of male physical attractiveness, especially as rendered by Michelangelo.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects in the Visual Arts: Dionysus

The Greek god of wine, revelry, and orgiastic delights, and the patron god of hermaphrodites and transvestites, Dionysus has been extremely popular as a subject of Western art.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects in the Visual Arts: Narcissus

Although the myth of Narcissus was originally intended as a moral fable against excessive pride, Narcissus has functioned in the arts as a symbol of same-sex passion, as well as of masturbation and effeminacy.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Males

Throughout much of history, the nude male figure was virtually the only subject that could be used to articulate homoerotic desire in publicly displayed works of art, as well as those works of art intended for private "consumption."

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Psyche

The story of Psyche, a late addition to Olympian divinities, is often interpreted as an allegory of the human confrontation with desire and the divine; although universal, it has had particular resonance for glbtq people.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Sex Workers

Although art historians have given very little attention to representations of sex workers, images of same-sex prostitution extend far back into history.

arts >> Borghese, Scipione Caffarelli

Scipione Caffarelli Borghese, a seventeenth-century Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, was a bold and influential patron and collector of the visual arts.

arts >> Correggio (Antonio Allegri)

One of the most innovative Italian painters of the sixteenth century, Corregio (Antonio Allegri) devised a highly original manner than anticipates the Baroque style of the seventeenth century.

literature >> Donne, John

England's supreme poet of heterosexual love in the late Renaissance, John Donne also wrote a series of homoerotic verse letters to a young man and a remarkable dramatic monologue in a lesbian voice.

arts >> Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

One of the leading Italian painters of the seventeenth century, Guercino fused spirituality and homoerotic desire in his paintings of religious subjects.

literature >> Gunn, Thom

The Anglo-American writer Thom Gunn was a major gay poet and a perceptive critic of gay poetry.

literature >> Jarman, Derek

In both his films and his writings, Derek Jarman's explicit project was to celebrate gay sexuality and imagine a place for it in English culture.

arts >> Lukacs, Attila Richard

The work of Canadian painter, sculptor, and installation artist Attila Richard Lukacs is provocative and frequently fetishistic, especially in its depictions of skinheads.

arts >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

The most famous artist who ever lived, Michelangelo left an enormous legacy in sculpture, painting, drawing, architecture, and poetry; while the artist's sexual behavior cannot be documented, the homoerotic character of his drawings, letters, and poetry is unmistakable.

arts >> Pasolini, Pier Paolo

One of the most important cultural figures to emerge from post-World War II Italy, Pier Paolo Pasolini was a versatile man-of-letters, but he was foremost a filmmaker.


Bersani, Leo, and Ulysse Dutoit. Caravaggio's Secrets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.

Gilbert, Creighton E. Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

Jarman, Derek. Derek Jarman's "Caravaggio": The Complete Film Script and Commentaries. London: Thames and Hudson, 1986.

Hammill, Graham L. "History and the Flesh: Caravaggio's Queer Aesthetic." Sexuality and Form: Caravaggio, Marlowe, and Bacon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. 63-96.

Langdon, Helen. Caravaggio: A Life. London: Chatto and Windus, 1998.

Moir, Alfred. Caravaggio. 1982. Rpt. New York: Abrams, 1989.

Posner, Donald. "Caravaggio's Homo-Erotic Early Works." Art Quarterly 34 (1971): 301-324.

Puglisi,Catherine. Caravaggio. London: Phaidon, 1998.

Robb, Peter. M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio. 1998. Rpt. New York: Picador, 2001.


    Citation Information
    Author: Frontain, Raymond-Jean  
    Entry Title: Caravaggio  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 3, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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