MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI, Italian sculptor, painter, master, born (d: 1564); commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet and engineer. Despite making few forays beyond the arts, his versatility in the disciplines he took up was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and fellow Italian Leonardo Da Vinci.
Everyone knows he was Gay. Even Dear Abby said as much in one of her columns. Poor Abby wound up being gently chewed out by none other than Irving Stone who insisted that all this queer business was started by that jealous old queen, Aretino. After all, would Charlton Heston ever play a fag?
The sculptor’s expressions of love have been characterized as both “Neo-platonic”” and openly homoerotic; recent scholarship seeks an interpretation which respects both readings, yet is wary of drawing absolute conclusions. One example of the conundrum is the story of Cecchino dei Bracci, whose death, only a year after their meeting in 1543, inspired the writing of forty-eight funeral epigrams, which by some accounts allude to a relationship that was not only romantic but physical as well:
La carne terra, e qui l’ossa mia, prive
de’ lor begli occhi, e del leggiadro aspetto
fan fede a quel ch’i’ fu grazia nel letto,
che abbracciava, e’ n che l’anima vive.
The flesh now earth, and here my bones,
Bereft of handsome eyes, and jaunty air,
Still loyal are to him I joyed in bed,
Whom I embraced, in whom my soul now lives.
The love of male beauty is fundamental to Michelangelo’s art, which attracted him both aesthetically and emotionally. Such feelings caused him great anguish, and he expressed the struggle between platonic ideals and carnal desire in his sculpture, drawing, and his poetry, too, for among his other accomplishments Michelangelo was also a great Italian lyric poet of the 16th century.
The sculptor loved a great many youths, many of whom posed for him. Some were of high birth, like the sixteen-year old Cecchino dei Bracci. Others were street wise and took advantage of the sculptor. Febbo di Poggio, in 1532, peddled his charms — in answer to Michelangelo’s love poem he asks for money.
Earlier, Gherardo Perini, in 1522, had stolen from him shamelessly. Nonetheless, Michelangelo defended his privacy above all. When an employee of his friend Niccolò Quaratesi offered his son as apprentice suggesting that he would be good even in bed, Michelangelo refused, suggesting Quaratesi fire the man.
His greatest male love was Tommaso dei Cavalieri (c. 1509–1587), who was 23-years old when Michelangelo met him in 1532, at the age of 57. Cavalieri was open to the older man’s affection: “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 till his death.
Michelangelo dedicated over 300 sonnets and madrigals to him, constituting the largest sequence of poems composed by him. Though some modern commentators assert that the relationship was merely a Platonic affection (mostly because they can’t imagine anything other than Platonic), the sonnets are the first large sequence of poems in any modern tongue addressed by one man to another, predating Shakespeare’s sonnets to his young friend by a good fifty years.
I feel as lit by fire a cold countenance
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.