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Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)  
 
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The reasons for Michelangelo's precipitous departure from Florence have never become entirely clear. We know that he was disappointed with his patrons' support of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who eradicated the ancient Florentine constitution by creating Alessandro de' Medici Duke of Florence and giving his natural daughter, Margaret of Austria, as the new duke's bride.

Once back in Rome, Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel and a pair of enormous frescoes, showing the Crucifixion of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul for the new Pope, Paul III Farnese.

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After 1534, in fact, Michelangelo never accepted another commission for sculpture; and once he had completed the second set of frescoes for Paul III in 1545, he never took another commission for a painting. All of that is to say that, after 1534, Michelangelo turned his attention almost exclusively to architecture.

Among the most important projects of his last years are the design for the Campidoglio, the ceremonial civic center of Rome on the Capitoline Hill, and the ongoing work on St. Peter's, begun by Bramante more than forty years before Michelangelo became its architect.

Private and Personal Works

Michelangelo's figural work in sculpture and drawing from the final three decades of his life is almost entirely private and personal in character. In this group one finds the Pietà in Florence (before 1555, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) and the so-called Rondanini Pietà (1554-1564, Milan, Castello Sforzesco), both projects for the artist's own tomb.

The enigmatic bust of Brutus (Florence, Bargello) may also be dated to this period, along with an important group of highly finished drawings, called "gift" or "presentation" drawings, that Michelangelo made for his most intimate friends. Far more than the works made for public display, these latter give us the insight into the artist's affective and erotic life that otherwise evades any but the most speculative commentary.

Even so, no Renaissance artist is better documented than Michelangelo. In addition to figuring in numerous contemporary records, he was the subject of two biographies published in his lifetime, by Giorgio Vasari (1550) and Ascanio Condivi (1555), as well as the protagonist of a fictional dialogue on the nature of painting by his Portuguese admirer Francisco de Hollanda (1538).

The scores of letters to and from Michelangelo show that he was a prodigious correspondent; and he was also the author of more than three hundred surviving poems. All of this has made it possible to draw a portrait of Michelangelo's complex psyche in greater detail than that of any of his contemporaries, with the possible exception of Queen Elizabeth I.

Michelangelo's Sexuality

Speculation about Michelangelo's sexuality first appeared in modern scholarship in the well-documented biography by John Addington Symonds (London, 1893). Despite all subsequent attempts by archival researchers, however, no written evidence has ever come to light that documents Michelangelo's erotic life.

This lacuna in the bounty of evidence cannot have been the result of an oversight, as Renaissance documents of all sorts recount the sexual proclivities of various artists in some detail.

Raphael (1483-1520), for example, seems to have been a great womanizer; and the flamboyant behavior of the Lombard painter Giovanni Andrea Bazzi (1477?-1549) earned him the nickname "Il Sodoma," "The ." Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography records without scruple his sexual escapades with both boys and women; and the second, 1568, edition of Vasari's biographies of artists frequently mentions details of their domestic arrangements.

By contrast, contemporary records tell us next to nothing about the sexual behavior of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) or Michelangelo. We do know that neither ever married and that, while still a youth in Florence, Leonardo was once arrested on suspicion of sodomy, the term commonly used to include all homosexual genital behavior.

Of Michelangelo the sources convey only rumors of sodomy. Condivi, whose biography Michelangelo virtually dictated, not only denied the rumors but insisted that the artist observed lifelong chastity. No surviving evidence contradicts that assertion.

However, it is important to remember that Michelangelo was eighty at the time that Condivi wrote, and that the religious climate then dominating Rome and the Papal Curia valorized chastity over marriage itself, even for laymen.

In any case, Renaissance culture did not consider involuntary erotic object-choices to be constituents of personal identity. In this they were no different from the biblical writers who provided the proof-texts for theological condemnations of sodomy.

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