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European Art: Renaissance  
page: 1  2  3  

Liminal Masculinity

The most conventional object of homoerotic desire was the adolescent youth, usually imagined as beardless. Attraction to liminal masculinity was also evident in the popularity of angels (officially sexless, yet pictured as boyish) and . For many influential writers and artists, the erotic and the beautiful were male, or anybody imbued with qualities perceived to have a crucial element of masculinity.

Thus, in 1542 Aretino praised Michelangelo's painting of Venus because it depicted a goddess whose female body had "the male's musculature, such that she is moved by virile and womanly feelings."

Toward the end of the next decade, Lodovico Dolce's paean to Titian's painting of Venus and Adonis included the comment that Adonis's face had "a certain fine beauty which could participate in the feminine yet not be remote from virility--an amalgam (mistura) which is hard to achieve and agreeable."

In 1550, Vasari singled out Michelangelo's statue of Bacchus for similar reasons. Carved in 1496-1497, the tipsy youth was said to show "a certain fusion (mistione) in the members that is marvelous, and in particular--both the youthful slenderness of the male and the fullness and roundness of the female."

In a patriarchal, androcentric culture, polymorphous sexuality was primarily a male privilege, but same-sex erotic fantasies and experiences were available to women too.

Patricia Simons

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

The goddess of chastity, Diana is frequently depicted with nymphs lovingly caring for her body, thus enacting a considerable degree of physical intimacy.

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

Since antiquity Ganymede, the beautiful Phrygian youth abducted by Jupiter, has served as an artistic expression for homosexuality.

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

A complex and multivalent character, Hercules is an exemplary hero whose myths remind us that a supreme manifestation of virility and physicality can also encompass sexual deeds outside the heteronormative.

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: St. Sebastian

Sebastian's broad and long-standing presence in queer artistic production suggests that he functions as an emblem of the feelings of shame, rejection, inverted desire, and loneliness endured by queer people in a homophobic society.

arts >> Botticelli, Sandro

Renowned for his linear finesse and richly colored, meticulous paintings, Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli produced profound religious works, astute portraits, and poetic adaptations of classical mythology, all of which encourage a suggestively queer response.

arts >> Bronzino, Agnolo

Agnolo Bronzino, court painter to Cosimo de Medici, through both his writing and painting, offers significant insight into same-sex desire and relationships in sixteenth-century Florentine society.

arts >> Cellini, Benvenuto

Sculptor, goldsmith, memoirist, and flamboyant pederast, Benvenuto Cellini is one of the greatest artists in the history of Western art.

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.

arts >> Donatello

The varied oeuvre of Renaissance sculptor Donatello includes figures of beautiful male youths imbued with homoerotic sensuality.

arts >> Dürer, Albrecht

One of the greatest graphic artists in history, Dürer elevated printmaking to the level of painting through his unprecedented use of line and value; his works frequently express sexual themes and homoeroticism.

social sciences >> Ficino, Marsilio

The fifteenth-century Italian philosopher Marsilio Ficino introduced the phrase "platonic love," by which he meant a relationship that included both the physical and the spiritual.

social sciences >> Hadrian

The love of the second-century Roman emperor Hadrian for the beautiful youth Antinous was exceptional not because the lovers were male, but because of its intensity.

arts >> Leonardo da Vinci

One of the greatest painters in the history of art and an outstanding empirical scientist, Leonardo was haunted by his illegitimacy and rumors of homosexuality.

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 >> Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola)

Although little is reliably known of the private life of sixteenth-century Italian Renaissance painter Parmigianino, his superbly refined and tortuously complex style has often appealed to a gay male audience sensitive to the extremes of taste embodied by Mannerism.

arts >> Il Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi)

Although his nickname may indicate nothing about his sexuality, Il Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) painted a number of works that depict same-sex intimacy.


Brantôme. (Pierre de Bourdeille, Seigneur de Brantùme). The Lives of Gallant Ladies. Alec Brown, trans. London: Elek, 1961.

Bray, Alan. The Friend. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming

_____. Homosexuality in Renaissance England. London: Gay Men's Press, 1982.

Bronzino, Agnolo. Rime in burla. Franca Petrucci Nardelli, ed. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1988.

Brown, Judith C. Immodest Acts. The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Cellini, Benvenuto. Autobiography. George Bull, trans. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1956.

Goldberg, Jonathan, ed.. Queering the Renaissance. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1994.

Michelangelo. The Poetry of Michelangelo. James Saslow, ed. and trans. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991.

Rocke, Michael. Forbidden Friendships. Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Ruggiero, Guido. The Boundaries of Eros. Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Saslow, James M. Ganymede in the Renaissance. Homosexuality in Art and Society. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.

_____. Pictures and Passions. A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York: Viking, 1999.

Simons, Patricia. "Lesbian (In)Visibility in Italian Renaissance Culture: Diana and Other Cases of donna con donna." Gay and Lesbian Studies in Art History. Whitney Davis, ed. New York: Haworth Press, 1994. 81-122.

Sternweiler, Andreas. Die Lust der Götter. Homosexualität in der italienischen Kunst von Donatello zu Caravaggio. Berlin: Verlag Rosa Winkel, 1993.

Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects. Gaston Du C. de Vere, trans. 3 vols. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1979.

Weigert, Laura. "Autonomy as Deviance: Sixteenth-Century Images of Witches and Prostitutes." Solitary Pleasures: The Historical, Literary, and Artistic Discourses of Autoeroticism. Paula Bennett and Vernon A. Rosario II, eds. New York: Routledge, 1995. 19-47.

Wittkower, Rudolf and Margot. Born Under Saturn. The Character and Conduct of Artists: A Documented History from Antiquity to the French Revolution. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969.


    Citation Information
    Author: Simons, Patricia  
    Entry Title: European Art: Renaissance  
    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 15, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
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    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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