The private life of Leonardo da Vinci, a renowned Italian artist and scientist of the Renaissance, has been the subject of much curiosity and discussion for many years. In particular, certain discoveries and interpretations by scholars have sparked speculations about his possible homosexuality.
Let’s start by stressing that during the Renaissance, homosexuality was not unequivocally seen as a sexual orientation, but rather as a sexual practice. Even the terminology was completely different. At that time, so-called “sodomy” (a term of religious origin indicating “non-procreative sexual acts”), was punishable by death. It is therefore clear that the lack of clarity we have today concerning Leonardo da Vinci’s homosexuality is likely due to the artist’s probable decision to keep his romantic and sexual attraction to people of the same sex a secret.
However, there are various historical pieces of evidence suggesting Leonardo Da Vinci’s possible homosexuality and in this article, we will attempt to delve into them in an effort to answer the question: “Was Leonardo Da Vinci truly gay?”
In 1476, Leonardo Da Vinci, alongside three other men, was charged with sodomy following an anonymous complaint. Despite the trial concluding with Leonardo and his co-defendants’ acquittal (given the complaint was anonymous and hence inadmissible), this accusation is often cited as evidence of Leonardo’s homosexuality.
Another fairly explicit document regarding Leonardo da Vinci’s romantic attraction towards men relates to one of his writings. In a Platonic rumination on love, Leonardo da Vinci employs a masculine grammatical form, describing the ‘lover’s approach to the beloved’:
“The lover is drawn towards the beloved object just as an object is attracted by its form, as the senses are attracted by that which is sensible, and with it, he unites and becomes one and the same thing (…). When the lover has reached the beloved, he rests there“. (Source: biographies by Giovanni dall’Orto).
Was Leonardo da Vinci gay? The controversial works and drawings
More evidence of Leonardo da Vinci’s homosexuality comes to us from some of his sketches, but also and directly from some of his most famous works.
Drawings and sketches
Let’s start with the sketches. Some of his sketches clearly demonstrate that Leonardo’s portraits of androgynous youths were not “asexual” as art historians have long claimed. Recently, a sketch was discovered depicting an Annunciate angel, modified by Leonardo with the addition of an apparent erection. It’s unclear whether this modification was made by Leonardo’s students (which nevertheless gives us an idea of the atmosphere in his workshop) or by the master himself.
Contrary to what historians claim, Leonardo was not a prudish individual devoid of sexuality as has been believed for a long time. As he didn’t have obvious heterosexual relationships, historians have denied the very existence of his sexuality. However, Leonardo wrote “racy” stories in his notes, drew at least three heterosexual sex scenes (once in an anatomical study), and created figures that today we might call “pornographic.”
Among these figures, according to painter and writer Giampaolo Lomazzo, were portraits of boys with prominent erections, drawings that were, however, destroyed.
Another sketch, contained in the “Atlantic Codex”, has come down to us today: this would confirm the sexual relationship between Leonardo Da Vinci and his pupil Gian Giacomo Caprotti, known as Salaj: the sketch features two erect male members, equipped with legs and a tail, marching towards an anal orifice above which is written the word: “Salaj.”
Now, let’s move on to the artworks.
The Mona Lisa
The famous painting The Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda) has been interpreted by some scholars as a portrait of Leonardo’s lover, Salaj.
Silvano Vinceti, one of the world’s foremost experts on art history, has recently carried out a detailed infrared analysis of Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated work in order to provide the art world with a more in-depth view of one of the most famous paintings of all time. According to Vinceti, the piece was created taking inspiration from two models: Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, and Gian Giacomo Caprotti, Leonardo’s student and lover.
According to Vinceti, the Mona Lisa is an androgynous work, representing both man and woman. This theory is grounded in certain resemblances found between Leonardo’s apprentice and the figure of the Mona Lisa, including the nose, the forehead, and the smile of the figure in the painting. The renowned art historian made his interpretation known in an interview with the British newspaper “The Telegraph”.
The Painting of Saint John the Baptist
Even the famous painting, Saint John the Baptist, has been subject to interpretations about Leonardo Da Vinci’s sexuality.
The subject of the work is sensual, with ambiguous gestures and a seductive, enticing smile.
According to speculation, the face depicted in the work is that of Gian Giacomo Caprotti, nicknamed “the devil” by Leonardo.
The young apprentice’s face appears in numerous other works and drawings by the artist, including the “Incarnate Angel”, an erotic version of the Lost Angel, of which only an anonymous copy is preserved at the Louvre.
Leonardo da Vinci gay: a TV series openly tackles the issue
The evidence we have previously described is subject to various and often conflicting interpretations, and there is no concrete proof that confirms Leonardo’s homosexuality. Moreover, even if it were true that Leonardo had sexual relations with men, this would not automatically make him “homosexual” in the modern sense of the term, since in the Renaissance, the practice of sodomy was prevalent among heterosexual men and was not necessarily linked to a sexual orientation.
In any case, the question of Leonardo da Vinci’s homosexuality continues to provoke considerable interest and curiosity, fuelling debates and research among scholars worldwide.
A television series has decided to openly portray Leonardo Da Vinci’s homosexuality. We are referring to “Leonardo”, an 8-episode epic produced by Lux Vide in collaboration with Rai Fiction and other major production companies, featuring outstanding actors such as Aidan Turner, Matilda De Angelis, Giancarlo Giannini, and Freddie Highmore.
Thetelevision series, created by Frank Spotnitz and Steve Thompson, offers a new interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s life, showcasing the artist’s human side and highlighting his creativity, his passion for knowledge, and his sexuality. It particularly explores the relationship between Leonardo and his pupil and assistant, Salai, Leonardo’s model and collaborator for many years, who, as we previously described, has been considered one of the artist’s possible lovers.
Frank Spotnitz, in the press conference launching the television series, said: “We drew from numerous sources, and we are convinced, precisely from the various sources, that Leonardo’s homosexuality was real. The obligation of truth in portraying the artist and the man also included this aspect of his life. The love story with Caterina thus becomes even more moving in this way because it was not based on sex, on physical attraction, opening this deep emotional dimension. Much more than what could be a temporary relationship. That’s why it was important to talk about it.”
Regardless of the speculations about his private life, Leonardo remains a titan of Italian and global culture, whose extraordinary artistic and scientific legacy continues to inspire and captivate millions of people worldwide.
As tour operators, we at Quiiky organise annual gay-friendly tours to explore the works of Leonardo Da Vinci located in the city of Milan, with a particular focus on queer details. For example, we visit the Ambrosiana Gallery to see the Atlantic Codex and the portrait of Salaì. The next stop is the Sforza Castle, followed by Leonardo’s Vineyard, which is one of the oldest in Europe for “Aromatic Candia Malvasia”.