Michelangelo Buonarroti is known to have been, like Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. His personal life, like Da Vinci, was just as fascinating as his works of art.
Michelangelo’s personal life has sparked interest and debate over the centuries, particularly regarding his sexual orientation. The question of whether Michelangelo was gay or not has been the focus of much discussion and analysis of his works, relationships, and poems.
In this article, we will explore Michelangelo’s life, relationships, and his most famous works of art in light of the question about his homosexual orientation, seeking to better understand the man behind the artist and the historical and cultural context in which he lived. We will also explore the challenges Michelangelo Buonarroti faced in his personal and professional life, and how his authenticity, his passion for art left a lasting legacy.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is an iconic figure of the Italian Renaissance thanks to his extraordinary works of art and his multidisciplinary talent as a sculptor, painter, architect and poet.
Born in Caprese (Tuscany) Michelangelo grew up in Florence, where he had the opportunity to study under eminent artists of the time and to immerse himself in humanistic culture through the invitation of Lorenzo de’ Medici. In this context, Michelangelo was introduced to classical art and ancient sculptures, which profoundly influenced his style and conception of art. He also had the opportunity to study with some of the Renaissance’s greatest intellectuals, such as the Neoplatonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino and the poet Angelo Poliziano.
After Lorenzo de’ Medici’s death in 1492, Michelangelo continued to work in Florence, under the patronage of other important families, such as the Borgias and the Strozzis. In 1496 he moved to Rome, where he received important commissions, including the creation of the Pieta, one of his most famous and admired works. In the following years, Michelangelo alternated his residence between Florence and Rome, working on several major works of art and architecture, such as theDavid and, of course, theSistine Chapel frescoes.
During his lifetime, Michelangelo had a number of friendships and relationships, some of which still provoke debates about his sexuality. Among these, the best known are those with Tommaso de’ Cavalieri and Vittoria Colonna, figures who profoundly influenced his art and poetry.
Despite much speculation about his private life, Michelangelo remained an enigmatic and secretive figure, concealing much of his personal life behind the veil of his extraordinary art.
Michelangelo was a rebel from his youth. Raised in an aristocratic family, he defied his father from a young age by refusing to learn Latin and accepting Lorenzo de’ Medici’s invitation to live at the Medici Palace, where he received the best humanistic education available in Europe.
His decision to become a sculptor-or “stonemason,” as his father called him-shocked Ludovico Buonarroti, as aristocrats were not in the habit of devoting themselves to such a trade.
Michelangelo was not deterred by the family’s expectations and became one of the greatest sculptors, painters, poets and architects in history.
Michelangelo gay? Love for Tommaso de’ Cavalieri
In his thirties, Michelangelo fell in love with a charming young aristocrat, Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, to whom he dedicated some of the most powerful love poems ever written, with not so veiled erotic overtones. Michelangelo’s letters to Cavalieri, moreover, became over time more and more jealous and possessive, unlike the boy’s letters, which were always warmer and more submissive, and he behaved as a kind of “lady courted.”
What we can say with certainty is that Michelangelo and Tommaso had a fruitful correspondence of mutual esteem and affection. The artist sent important drawings, for which he often asked Tommaso for feedback. Prominent among them were “The Rape of Ganymede,” “The Torment of Titius,” “The Fall of Phaeton,” and “The Bacchanal of Maidens“.
Even Duke Cosimo I wrote to Tommaso to persuade Michelangelo to provide him with at least one work.
However, it does not seem that Michelangelo and Tommaso de’ Cavalieri ever had a real romantic relationship. It was a rather platonic relationship, perhaps because of the age difference between the two: Tomasso was 23 years old when he met the 57-year-old Michelangelo during one of his stays in Rome.
According to current analyses of Michelangelo’s works, Tommaso Cavalieri may have been the model for some of Michelangelo’s most famous works of art, including some of the figures in the massive “Last Judgment” fresco for the Sistine Chapel.
Tommaso, who had a wife and children, remained at Michelangelo’s side until his death.
Michelangelo also fell in love with a woman, Vittoria Colonna. He also dedicated many of these works to her, many of which have been lost over time or are difficult to attribute. What remains for us today are some preparatory drawings made by the great artist, including the Pietà for Vittoria Colonna and the Crucifixion.
Love for both a man and a woman shows us how much more nuanced and complex human sexuality was, than contemporary definitions of “homosexual” or “heterosexual” might suggest.
In any case, same-sex attraction in Michelangelo’s time was by no means accepted: “sodomites” were burned alive. Michelangelo was, therefore, faced with an impossible choice. His choice was between death and mediocrity, but he refused both.
Michelangelo gay: the idealization of the male body in his works
Although Michelangelo produced a wide variety of figures throughout his exceptional artistic career, his most relevant and daring works unquestionably focus on the male figure. This predominance has led many to speculate that this may be evidence of his homosexuality.
Michelangelo’s famous David, for example, is believed to be one of his most emblematic works and depicts an idealized young man, modeled with great care and precision in detail, which highlights the artist’s profound knowledge of the nude male body. Similarly, in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo places special emphasis on male nudes, which he masterfully portrayed as athletic, elegant, and muscular figures. Specifically, in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel’s vault, Michelangelo introduced a set of 20 nude male figures called “The Ignudi”. The presence of these young, athletic figures, grouped four by four, does not seem to have any direct connection with the biblical themes of the paintings, and is not found in previous frescoes. This has led many to ponder the meaning the artist intended for these figures: could they be angels witnessing the events narrated or representations of idealized men expressing the artist’s innermost desires?
Finally, some believe that Michelangelo, even when painting women, used male models as reference. This hypothesis is supported by the physical appearance of the women featured in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, with a robust and muscular conformation and vigorous arms, and by the marble sculptures in the Medici Chapel, whose bodies seem to exhibit distinctive features of developed pectoral muscles.
Challenging the conventions of the time
What is certain is that Michelangelo, whatever is said about him, did not allow the conventions of the time to stifle his deeper nature. When he fell in love with Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, he not only wrote intense erotic poems for him, he published them. When Pope Julius II asked him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, not only did he transform the chapel into one of the most famous rooms on earth, but he frescoed it with twenty enormous naked men, of whom there is no trace in Scripture.
This gigantic act of defiance resonates through the centuries and demonstrates Michelangelo’s boldness and courage in following his personal truth.
Although many have speculated about Michelangelo’s sexuality, the truth is that we will never really know. Michelangelo was a courageous figure who defied the conventions of his time to follow his passion for art and to live authentically. His works of art and his personal life are an expression of his indomitable willpower and his desire to express the deepest truth about himself, leaving us with an artistic and cultural legacy that continues to inspire and fascinate to this day.