Michelangelo had numerous gay lovers throughout his long life, especially among the young men who were the models for his work: Gherardo Perini, nobleman Tommaso Cavalieri, Cecchino dei Bracci, and a young male prostitute named Febo di Poggio, among others. Perini lived with Michelangelo for over ten years.
“Up from the earth I rose with his wings and death itself I could have found sweet,” is how Michelangelo described their relationship. (P: Lucrezia d'Alagno (1430−1479)/Painting from monastery: i frati Cappuccini nel Lazio. Vittoria Colonna)
Bracci was thirteen when Michelangelo (then sixty-six) fell in love with him. Bracci died just two years later; Michelangelo was devastated and spent a year writing passionate epitaphs for Bracci’s tomb, including this one:
The earthy flesh and here my bones deprivedMichelangelo’s diaries, letters, and poetry contain many references to his passionate love for young men. Those writings were suppressed for centuries after his death, and his love poems written to Cavalieri were published with gender changed from male to female.
Of their charming face and beauti- ful eyes,
Do yet attest for him how gracious I was in bed
When he embraced and in what the soul doth live.
The Statue of David, completed by Michelangelo in 1504, is one of the most renowned works of the Renaissance
In his personal life, Michelangelo was abstemious. He told his apprentice, Ascanio Condivi: "However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man." Condivi said he was indifferent to food and drink, eating "more out of necessity than of pleasure" and that he "often slept in his clothes and ... boots." His biographer Paolo Giovio says, "His nature was so rough and uncouth that his domestic habits were incredibly squalid, and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him." He may not have minded, since he was by nature a solitary and melancholy person, bizzarro e fantastico, a man who "withdrew himself from the company of men."
It is impossible to know for certain whether Michelangelo had physical relationships (Condivi ascribed to him a "monk-like chastity"), but the nature of his sexuality is made apparent in his poetry. He wrote over three hundred sonnets and madrigals. The longest sequence was written to Tommaso dei Cavalieri (c. 1509–1587), who was 23 years old when Michelangelo met him in 1532, at the age of 57. These make up the first large sequence of poems in any modern tongue addressed by one man to another, predating Shakespeare's sonnets to the fair youth by fifty years:
I feel as lit by fire a cold countenanceCavalieri replied: "I swear to return your love. Never have I loved a man more than I love you, never have I wished for a friendship more than I wish for yours." Cavalieri remained devoted to Michelangelo until his death.
That burns me from afar and keeps itself ice-chill;
A strength I feel two shapely arms to fill
Which without motion moves every balance.
— (Michael Sullivan, translation)
In 1542 Michelangelo met Cecchino dei Bracci who died only a year later, inspiring Michelangelo to write forty-eight funeral epigrams. Some of the objects of Michelangelo's affections, and subjects of his poetry, took advantage of him: the model Febo di Poggio asked for money in response to a love-poem, and a second model, Gherardo Perini, stole from him shamelessly.
The openly homoerotic nature of the poetry was a source of discomfort to later generations. Michelangelo's grandnephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published the poems in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed, and it was not until John Addington Symonds translated them into English in 1893 that the original genders were restored. Even in modern times some scholars continue to insist that, despite the restoration of the pronouns, they represent "an emotionless and elegant re-imagining of Platonic dialogue, whereby erotic poetry was seen as an expression of refined sensibilities".
Late in life, Michelangelo nurtured a great love for the poet and noble widow Vittoria Colonna, whom he met in Rome in 1536 or 1538 and who was in her late forties at the time. They wrote sonnets for each other and were in regular contact until she died. Condivi recalls Michelangelo's saying that his sole regret in life was that he did not kiss the widow's face in the same manner that he had her hand.
Stern, Keith (2009-09-01). Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals (Kindle Locations 8593-8607). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World by R. B. Parkinson
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (September 3, 2013)
Amazon: A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World
When was the first chat line between men established? Who was the first "lesbian"? Were ancient Greek men who had sex with each other necessarily "gay," and what did Shakespeare think about crossdressing?
A Little Gay History answers these questions and more through close readings of art objects from the British Museum's far-ranging collection. Consulting ancient Egyptian papyri, the Roman Warren Cup's erotic figures, David Hockney's vivid prints, and dozens of other artifacts, R. B. Parkinson draws attention to a diverse range of same-sex experiences and situates them within specific historical and cultural contexts. The first of its kind, A Little Gay History builds a complex and creative portrait of love's many guises.
More Artists at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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