Florence’s golden age was during the 14th to 16th centuries, when the town was a premier center for commerce, education and the arts. The Medici family, who ruled the land, promoted tolerance and the appreciation of art and culture, which attracted artists, philosophers, and writers from all over the globe. The tolerant and sophisticated city became the proud home to many famous homosexual figures, such as: Michelangelo; Leonardo da Vinci; Benvenuto Cellini; Botticelli; Pico della Mirandola; Machiavelli; and Pontormo.
In fact, the widespread practice of same-sex love in 15th century Florence was so well-known throughout Europe that the city became synonymous with homosexuality. For example, German speaking countries used to call gay people “Florenzer” (Florentine) while the French referred to sodomy as “le vice Florentin” (the Florentine vice). And this was a period where homosexuality was punished almost anywhere else by death!
The Medici, however, were more than happy to keep a close eye on the sexual proclivities of their citizens, in particular when they were artists, architects, writers and philosophers. They created the “Officers of the Night” (Gli Ufficiali della Notte), which was a special unit founded in 1432 to monitor and police any “deviant” behavior, but there were rarely serious consequences for the accused. Nevertheless, in a city of around 40,000 more than 12,000 were incriminated at least once for their sexual orientation, but only a few were sentenced to either prison or exile. Most were given a “civil absolution” after admitting their transgression and paying a modest fine.
In 1494, after being assigned to Florence, the Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola started his “cleansing campaign” against the Medici Family, and against sodomy. However, in September of 1512, the Medici family regained control of Florence, and halted the persecution of the gay community. Three centuries later, in 1853, Tuscany became the first Italian State to decriminalize homosexuality, confirming this wonderful city’s status as a nexus of LGBTQ tolerance and history.
In addition to its rich LGBTQ history, Florence has amazing museums, with our two favorite choices for the best in homoerotic art being the Galleria dell Accademia and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello Museums. The Accademia Gallery features four of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s uncompleted ‘Prigioni’ (Prisoners) statues representing naked male bodies, fighting to set themselves free from the constraining marble, in addition to his original David. The Bargello features three homoerotic statues by Cellini: the ‘Narcissus’, ‘Apollo and Hyacinth’ and ‘Zeus and Ganymede’. ‘Ganymede and the Hawk’ and ‘Pan seducing Olympus’…all classic expressions of homoeroticism.
Make sure to include Florence on your bucket list of places to visit once the world is back to normal, and in the meantime check out our Untold History tour of the Bargello and Accademia Museums here.