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European Art: Baroque  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  

From the perspective of gay art history, these highly publicized trials are very significant because numerous prints represented the "crimes" that supposedly threatened the stability of the Netherlands. As a group, these images provide the fullest visual documentation that we have of the circumstances of gay life in the early modern era.

For example, B. de Bakker's engraving Timely Punishment (1731; reissued 1732) presents six vignettes, concerning two men who are shown leaving a tavern together, abandoning their wives and children, being arrested, suffering in prison, and being burned at the stake. In the final image, their ashes are scattered to the jubilation of a large crowd.

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Similarly, an anonymous engraving, Justice Triumphant (1731), depicts the Netherlands being destroyed by fire and water as an "orgy" of drunken sodomites is revealed by allegorical figures of Truth and Virtue.

Popular prints provide valuable evidence of nascent gay and lesbian communities in other countries, even though they are consistently represented from a negative point of view. Typical are the woodcuts in The Women-Hater's Lamentation (a tract published in London, 1720); an image of two fashionable men kissing is framed by scenes of men who have committed suicide.

The woodcuts in an anonymous English broadsheet entitled Hic-Mulier or The Man-Woman (1620) are particularly interesting because the "problems" posed by lesbians generally were given less attention than the actions of male "sodomites."

The illustrations in Hic-Mulier show women cutting their hair to imitate male styles and dressing themselves in men's clothes. The text accompanying these images explains that "men-women" threatened the moral fiber and the economic vitality of England by living together as spouses and by taking jobs that rightfully should be given to men.

"Heterosexualization"

Baroque artists contributed to the "heterosexualization" of society by eradicating erotic connotations from their depictions of Ganymede, the youthful cupbearer of Jupiter, whose image had often served as a coded reference to same-sex love during the medieval and Renaissance periods.

Rembrandt (Rape of Ganymede, 1630) and several other Dutch artists mocked the Ganymede myth by representing the cupbearer as a baby, who cries and urinates in terror as he is carried up to the heavens by Jupiter in the guise of an eagle. Peter Paul Rubens sought to infuse the myth with heterosexual "family values" by inventing the scene of Ganymede and Hebe (1611), which depicts the boy being entrusted with Jupiter's cup by Hebe.

Guido Reni and Anthony Van Dyck

Given the fierce prevailing in Europe during the Baroque era, historians seeking to reconstruct the lifestyles and works of queer artists often have to depend upon undocumented anecdotes and innuendoes.

Utilizing this type of evidence (including rumors about his supposed disdain of women, his possible romantic involvement with his long-time assistant, his interest in cross-dressing, and his "delicate" mannerisms), recent scholars interpret Guido Reni (1575-1642) as a gay artist.

Their analysis of Reni's career constitutes a belated scholarly acknowledgment of the insights of numerous modern gay writers (ranging from Oscar Wilde to Yukio Mishima), who were deeply moved by the visualization of homoerotic desire in his paintings.

Reni's life-sized Saint Sebastian (ca 1620) is more physically and sensually palpable than are most representations by Baroque artists (such as those of Lodovico Carracci, 1599, and Giuseppe Cesari d'Arpino, 1617), who reduced the erotic potential of the theme of a naked man tied to a tree by depicting the saint with a bony physique and directing his gaze away from the spectator.

Throughout his long career, Reni endowed images of violent interaction among men (for example, Samson Slaying the Philistines, 1608, and Apollo Flaying Marsyas, ca 1620) with a languid but intense sensuality, which greatly appealed to the Marquis de Sade, who collected his works.

Much of the work of the Belgian painter, Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), also seems to be infused with homoerotic sensuality. Van Dyck was a bachelor (a suspect status in Baroque Europe), but his consistently impeccable behavior prevented any rumors about his personal life.

Van Dyck visualized the harmonious rapport among beautiful male figures in numerous "friendship portraits," commissioned by aristocrats at the English court. These portraits (such as that of George, Lord Digby, later 2nd Earl of Bristol and William, Lord Russell, later 5th Earl and 1st Duke of Bedford, ca 1633) provide no overt indications of "immoral" behavior. However, the elegant men in his paintings are posed so that their bodies echo one another, and their delicate expressions and gestures eloquently convey their tender feelings for one another.

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