Although the Vatican is known for its conservative stances toward the LGBTQ+ community, gay-themed works can be found among its art collections in the Vatican museums.
In this article we will write about Gay Rome: we will explore, in particular, the gay-themed artworks in the Vatican, analyzing their significance, how these works can be interpreted more broadly to represent the struggle for equality, the justice for the LGBTQIA+ community and how they can be relevant to LGBTQ culture.
Gay Rome: the secret history of the Vatican Museums
During a visit to the Vatican Museums, one has the opportunity to discover more interesting facts about LGBTQ culture than walking down the streets of Rome’s gay street. In fact, contrary to what one would expect, admiring the statues and works displayed here (but also those in the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica) one learns much about ancient queer history of Gay Rome.
Antinous was the young Greek known for his extraordinary beauty and, above all, for his relationship with the Roman emperor Hadrian.
Originally from Bithynia (an ancient region of Turkey) Antinous in 124 AD met the Roman emperor Hadrian during a visit of the emperor to his city. The emperor fell madly in love with Antinous: they became lovers and life partners. Antinous accompanied the emperor on his travels throughout the Roman empire and participated in official ceremonies. Their relationship lasted seven years, until Antinous’ death in 130 CE during a trip to Egypt.
Antinous’ death was a dramatic event for the emperor, who ordered the construction of a city in his honor, Antinopolis, where a temple dedicated to the young lover was also erected. The figure of Antinous became a symbol of ideal beauty, inspiring numerous works of art over the centuries and becoming a mythological figure associated with the love affair with the emperor.
The statue of Antinous, made in the years following Antinous’ death, was found in the Tiburtine excavations of the Villa Fede, in the ruins of the ancient Villa Adriana in the year 1790. It was later sold to Pope Pius VI for his Palazzo Braschi. Later, the statue was transferred to the Lateran Museum by Gregory XVI, and then placed in the Rotunda Hall of the Vatican Museum by Pius IX, where it still stands today.
The statue originally had no mantle, but the present drapery is from the modern period: this suggests that it was originally made of metal. Wreaths of ivy leaves and berries adorn the crowns, while the head is surmounted by a diadem, which bore at its apex a urae or lotus flower, replaced in modern times by a kind of pine cone.
Here, in the city of the Roman Church, Antinous and Emperor Hadrian are reunited side by side thanks to the incredible sculptures representing them.
Michelangelo and the traces of homosexuality in his frescoes for the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo, one of the most important artists of the Italian Renaissance, created in the vault of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City one of the most celebrated frescoes in the world. It is precisely in the masterpieces, left inside the main chapel of the apostolic palace, that one can find explicit references to homosexuality, his particular predilection for male bodies, and, in particular, the love of his life, the young Tommaso de’Cavaleri: for example, according to scholars, Michelangelo painted Jesus with his face, as well as dedicating at least thirty poems to him.
As many as three pairs of men kissing can be found in the fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.
To get a confirmation of how much Michelangelo was a lover of male beauty, of the defined and muscular body, just take a look at his paintings: even the women are always equipped with dazzling biceps and abs.
Michelangelo was able to create a perfect synthesis of opposite elements such as male and female, heaven and earth, matter and soul. What to others was seen as darkness, to him represented an elective light, which he expressed in his works of art. With the support of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo was able to dare and create bold works, such as the “tavern paintings” in the Sistine Chapel, which today are considered masterpieces. Julius II, in fact, did not care about Michelangelo’s possible homosexuality, but appreciated him for his artistic genius. We should do the same, appreciating Michelangelo’s work without prejudice or sweetening filters, both today and in the future.
Gay Rome and Vatican Museums: the tour you weren’t expecting
Our tour is designed to offer an inclusive and welcoming experience for LGBTQ+ tourists who wish to discover the beauty and history of the Vatican Museums through a safe and judgment-free group itinerary.
During the guided tour, you will discover the secrets and curiosities of the Sistine Chapel, exploring Michelangelo’s frescoes and discovering the lesser-known aspects of art history.
Our tour is a unique opportunity to enjoy a cultural and historical experience in a welcoming and inclusive setting. We invite you to book your tour today and join us for an unforgettable experience.