glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)  
page: 1  2  3  4  

Even so, the flurry of puritanical criticism that broke out on the completion of the Last Judgment in 1541 might betray the detection of content, but no explicit statement to that effect has come to light. As the objections focused on female as well as male figures, moreover, there can be little doubt that the cries for censorship of the nudes was a generalized matter of decorum.

Presentation Drawings

No inference of erotically-charged romantic love is necessary when one turns to a group of drawings that Michelangelo made for Tomaso de' Cavalieri. Usually called "presentation drawings," these and related sheets belong to an entirely new form of graphic art, in which the artist makes a drawing as a finished expression of private thoughts to a specific individual.

Leonardo may have invented the genre, but Michelangelo used it to celebrate his relationships with Vittoria Colonna and Tomaso de' Cavalieri, the only two people for whom he is documented as having created a unique work of art as a token of personal esteem.

The work for Vittoria Colonna is strictly religious in subject matter. For Tomaso de' Cavalieri, however, Michelangelo depicted subjects not from Christian piety, but from pagan myths (Ganymede, Tityus) and private allegories of a Humanist type (The Dream of Human Life).

The homoerotic character of Michelangelo's presentation drawings, confessional letters, and love poetry is unmistakable. It is also resistant of definition in modern terms. At the same time, it would be malicious cant to deny the presence of homoerotic content simply because it does not fit with contemporary, mostly North American, discourses of sexuality.

Michelangelo's Erotic Longings and His Love of God

Above all else, Michelangelo struggled to reconcile his unavoidable erotic longings with his indelible love of God. Nowhere did that struggle leave a deeper trace than in the religious poetry of his late years, where he addresses Jesus with the same passionate affection that he had earlier lavished on Tomaso de' Cavalieri.

In these poems one can detect Michelangelo's painful wrestling with his conclusion that the means of earthly love open to him could not provide the immanent metaphor of heavenly love that the comforts of marriage bring to most men and women.

Far more than his works in painting and sculpture, Michelangelo's poems show him to have been among the very first Europeans to problematize homosexual experience as an intractable constituent of the self.


While it is true that the scholarly literature is silent on the matter of Michelangelo's affections until Symonds's biography of the 1890s, there is plenty of reason to believe that artists in immediately succeeding generations who are known to have entertained same-sex attractions mined the treasure of Michelangelo's male nudes for uses that cannot be interpreted as other than homoerotic.

Of these, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is most obvious; and others, such as Michelangelo's contemporary Cellini, make it clear that there has always been a current of opinion that Michelangelo's sexual nature was oriented towards other men. However, it is only in very recent times, since the 1970s, that famous works by Michelangelo have become icons of contemporary gay culture.

Especially in the United States, the critical fortunes both of the David and the male nudes (ignudi) on the Sistine Ceiling have risen with the emergence of a thoroughly masculine, indeed hypermasculine, popular image for gay men.

However unlikely it may seem in this connection, the only historical evidence for the possible perception of the David's erotic attraction for Florentines of Michelangelo's generation is the fact that, soon after the statue came to rest at the Palazzo della Signoria, a gilded circlet of bronze leaves was made to cover his nudity both front and rear.

While it is of course true that the statue may have elicited highly sexual responses from both male and female viewers ever since 1504, no recorded evidence of any kind would support a historical interpretation based on the David's supposed homoerotic content.

William Hood

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3  4    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts

   Related Entries
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 Art: Renaissance

The various cultural patterns, especially the conditions of artistic production and the types of subjects and themes represented, provide a great deal of evidence about Renaissance sexuality and art.

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 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 of the Visual Arts: Nude Females

While nude depictions of women appear in most cultures, on both sides of the equator, and in rich variety, lesbian artists have been particularly resourceful in their use of the female nude.

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 >> 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 >> Britten, Benjamin

The most acclaimed British composer of the twentieth century, Benjamin Britten created many works that were inspired by his long-time personal and professional relationship with his lover, Peter Pears.

arts >> Caravaggio

The most original painter of early seventeenth-century Europe, Caravaggio imbues his art with homoeroticism.

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 >> Overview:  Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

Given the historic stigma around making, circulating, and possessing overtly homoerotic images, the visual arts have been especially important for providing a socially sanctioned arena for depicting the naked male body and suggesting homoerotic desire.

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.

literature >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

Best known for his genius in art and architecture, Michelangelo was also an accomplished author of homoerotic poetry.

arts >> Pontormo, Jacopo

One of the most original and fascinating artists of the Italian Renaissance, Pontormo played a decisive role in helping to define 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.

literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.


Ackerman, James S. The Architecture of Michelangelo. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Condivi, Ascanio. A Life of Michael-Angelo. Alice Sedgwick Wohl, trans. Helmut Wohl, ed. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Hibbard, Howard. Michelangelo. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harper & Row, 1985.

Hirst, Michael. Michelangelo and His Drawings. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

Michelangelo. Michelangelo. The Complete Poems. James Saslow, trans. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991.

_____. Selected Readings. William E. Wallace, ed. New York: Garland Publishing, 1999.

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

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

Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists: A Selection. George Bull, trans. London: Penguin Books, 1987.


    Citation Information
    Author: Hood, William  
    Entry Title: Michelangelo Buonarroti  
    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 28, 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.  


This Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.