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Patronage I: The Western World from Ancient Greece until 1900  
 
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Several influential queer male patrons also exploited art collection and interior decoration as forms of personal expression; in doing so, they also transgressed gender boundaries, for the adornment of living spaces generally was considered a feminine concern. By surrounding themselves with beautiful and unusual objects, these patrons indicated their commitment to sensual pleasures and rejection of moralistic restrictions.

Their exceptional refinement of taste can be correlated with their patterns of behavior. By employing gestures that were considered extravagant and "effeminate," they flaunted conventions and contributed to the formation of a distinct, socially recognizable identity. Historians (including gay historians) often have dismissed these patrons as weak individuals who withdrew from active engagement in their societies. However, their bold rejection of social standards and their creation of queer environments deserve to be evaluated in a more favorable light. Two prominent examples of this type of patron will be discussed here.

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Philippe Bourbon, Duc d'Orleans (1640-1701), the younger brother of Louis XIV, is among the trend setters in this regard. Numerous scholars have suggested that Louis allowed Philippe to indulge his sexual tastes freely in order to prevent him from marshalling support against royal policies. Lending credibility to this theory is the fact that Philippe's exploits as a naval commander in the Franco-Dutch wars during the 1670s had secured such popular acclaim that Louis prohibited him from participating in any further military actions.

Prevented from exercising any political influence, Philippe devoted himself to a life of pleasure in Paris. In 1692, he was granted the Palais Royal as his residence in Paris. He had it decorated by a team of artists, under the supervision of Pierre Mignard (1612-1695), with paintings of various themes, including Ganymede and other homoerotic subjects.

Unfortunately, the palace interior was destroyed in 1781, and it has been difficult to reconstruct his holdings of paintings, sculptures, and jewels, which were not fully catalogued before they were dispersed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, the Bacchus and Ariadne (1693, Philadelphia Museum of Art), which he commissioned from Antoine Coypel (1661-1721), can serve to exemplify the light-hearted, sensual, and elegant paintings that he is known to have favored.

One of the wealthiest men in Europe, William Beckford (1760-1844) utilized his immense wealth to fund his extravagant artistic patronage. He was brought up in a severe, puritanical atmosphere, but he received an exceptionally comprehensive education, which enabled him to gain fluency in several languages (including Portuguese, Arabic, and Chinese) and which provided him with thorough understanding of such diverse fields as literature, physics, and law. His drawing teacher was the prominent artist Alexander Cozens (1717-1786).

At the age of 19, Beckford fell in love with his cousin, William Courtenay (1769-1835). To silence rumors about their relationship, Beckford's family compelled him to marry Lady Margaret Gordon in 1783. Accounts of the continuing affair of Courtenay and Beckford were reported in newspapers in 1784, and he was compelled to resign his seat in Parliament and to withdraw his petition for knighthood.

For the next ten years, Beckford lived abroad (mainly in Portugal), and even when he returned to England he was not received by polite society. Nevertheless, he established a distinguished literary reputation through the publication in 1786 of his Gothic romance, Vathek, which may have been inspired in part by Careceri d'invenzione ("Fantastic prisons," 1745-63), an extended series of etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-78), in his collection.

Returning to England in 1794, Beckford had his estate at Fonthill Gifford, Hampshire, enclosed in a twelve-foot high, six-mile long wall to ensure his privacy, and perhaps to emphasize his withdrawal from English conventions. He ordered his father's Palladian mansion demolished, and, collaborating with the architect James Wyatt (1746-1813), Beckford constructed an immense Gothic mansion, which he named Fonthill Abbey.

Although Wyatt may have been largely responsible for the design of Fonthill Abbey, Beckford certainly contributed many of the details, based on various Portuguese models, and he also determined the grandiose, theatrical character of the interior. This immense structure--with a central tower measuring 84 meters tall--was a realization of the sublime dreamscapes that had appeared in Vathek. In 1825, the tower collapsed because of insufficient support, but, until that point, Fonthill Abbey provided a sublime stage on which Beckford could act out his life on his own terms.

To decorate the immense structure, Beckford purchased an eclectic variety of objects, including silver and furniture with Gothic motifs, as well as elaborately decorated Chinese porcelain, Japanese lacquer furniture, and Venetian glass. He hired landscape artist Joseph William Mallord Turner (1775-1851) to record Fonthill Abbey in watercolor (now at Brodick Castle, Strathclyde, Scotland) and commissioned several other works from this dramatic, Romantic artist.

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