484 years ago today, arguably the great love of Michelangelo’s life wrote him a love poem that would rival any between a straight couple.
Hello! I’m Bruce Tedder and you’re watching Today in LGBT History.
Historians cannot agree on much, including Michelangelo’s sexuality. Many of his writings, drawings, sculptures, and paintings had overtly homosexual overtones. There were always accusations, even by members of Michelangelo’s own extended family. But it was a title that Michelangelo never seemed to have fully embraced.
But then again, why are titles so important anyway? It’s human nature to try to put other people in boxes; to file that person away as one stereotype or another. But that’s not an accurate way to look at other people. Every single one of us, we are all much more complicated than titles allow.
But here’s what we do know about Michelangelo: he and Tommaso dei Cavalieri were clearly in love. Over the decades, Michelangelo created scores of artworks dedicated to him. One of my favorite of his sonnets dedicated to Cavalieri states that "Love is not always a harsh and deadly sin." (Poem 260)
Though Cavalieri was 34 years younger than Michelangelo, he obviously returned his affections. On August 2, 1533, he wrote to Michelangelo, saying “I flee from evil deeds, and wish to flee them, for I cannot make love with anyone but you.”
Despite Michelangelo’s apparent homosexuality, he was one of the most celebrated artists in not only his lifetime, but in history. He was probably one of the first celebrities and his expertise was highly sought after. He worked for a total of 9 Catholic Popes and even designed perhaps the most important Christian church in the world -- St. Peter's Basilica.
When Michelangelo died in 1564, his devoted lover Tommaso dei Cavalieri was by his side. Unfortunately, don’t know much about happened to Cavalieri after this point, but their relationship remains one that we can learn from today. The love between these two men did not fit neatly into any box. As is so often the case, no titles were sufficient. Historians will try to whitewash, or even worse demonize, their relationship. But those arguments are not fair to the memory of these two people. Love is love and we need to stop trying to put that into neat boxes that fit into our individual narratives.
Thank you for watching today’s episode of Today in LGBT History. If you learned something today, give the video a thumbs up and subscribe for new videos like this every day. Tomorrow we will be looking at Rudolf Brazda, the last known Holocaust survivor who was in a concentration camp because of his sexuality.
"9 Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo." By Evan Andrews on history.com http://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-michelangelo
"Homosexuality and Civilization" By Louis Crompton. Page 274. Accessed through Google Books https://books.google.com/books?id=TfBYd9xVaXcC&pg=PA274&lpg=PA274
Rictor Norton, "The Passions of Michelangelo", Gay History and Literature, updated 14 June 2008 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/michela.htm>.
"Sonnets of Michelangelo Buonarroti, now for the first time translated into rhymed English" translated by John Addington and published in 1904 in London by Smith, Elder, & Co and in New York by C. Scribner's Sons. Accessed through archive.org https://archive.org/details/cu31924014269975