Birth - Death
1475 - 1564
Respected as the greatest artist of his world when living, Michelangelo remains today one of the most well known and collected painters in history. He was primarily a painter, sculptor, and architect. His notable works include the paintings and frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, his statue of David, and the architecture of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Michelangelo grew up in the city of Florence – the centre of Renaissance art – and was educated with the philosophy of the Humanist school of thought. As such, he grew to respect the importance of the individual to the collective whole, to reject doctrine, and to appreciate the contribution of critical thinking to the progressive development of society. It is generally recognized that his artwork reflects the influence of his humanist philosophy teachings.
In other contexts, though, Michelangelo was also a strong individual who craved the company of fellow artists over the confines of school and politics. He relied extensively on commissions, particularly for that of sculpture, from the wealthy Medici family, the Cardinals of the Catholic Church, and other patrons of Italy. In most instances he asked for and was granted by them permission to create art in his own style and context, though this often did lead to controversy. Michelangelo pushed the boundaries of acceptable norms at the time, most often with the Catholic Church. As well, he was always subject to the exigencies of political conflicts of his time – between the rival families of Italy, the war with France, and so on. Toward the last 30 years of his life, he was fortunate not to have to take commissions, but rather made art privately and personally.
Michelangelo’s art always seems to evolve from his inner conflict between his Humanist teachings (which encouraged art as an expression of inner emotion and inspiration) and his independent, often arrogant character and inclinations. Perhaps this is why he pursued sculpting as his preferred medium – the objective of the sculptor is to extract the emotion out of the hard material of stone or marble.
Regardless, his artwork is solidly a reflection of his homosexual tendencies. Almost all of it reflects male beauty, either boldly or subtly, and his talent is so great that the final result is an art piece which evokes sensual feelings.
Throughout his life, his male relationships were both romantic and physical. Such relationships, however, did not tend to moderate his personal lack of satisfaction or his intense degree of self-criticism of his work. However, that intensity of self criticism led to great art.
His most noted relationship was with Tommaso dei Cavalieri, to whom he wrote over 300 sonnets and poems. This homosexual relationship was well known in his lifetime, but subsequent historians and interpreters attempted to downplay the relationship by changing the gender of the pronouns in the poems.
Michelangelo’s drawings of the nude Cavalieri, representing the artist’s private thoughts and his personal esteem for the subject, are considered today to have been so intricate and delicate as to represent the creation of a new graphic art form from his time.
The attempts to downplay the relationship are a reflection of the morals of both his time and those throughout the subsequent generations whereby an individual is to be judged on his actions not his temptations. In this context, homosexual tendencies were classified strictly as the latter and the former was forbidden.
Why is there a need to obscure the actual physical action of love when it involves homosexuality, even when practiced by an individual who clearly was one of the greatest contributors of art the world has known? It should not matter what physical action characterizes one’s sexual preference, especially when the individual’s sexual attraction creates such powerful and appreciated art. In this regard, the gay community is right to adopt Michelangelo’s work as representative of their culture and their community.