Friday, November 30, 2007

Caravaggio: Historical anecdotes concerning his possible homosexual disposition

We do not know that Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was homosexual. There are arguments pro and con , and the traditional view of Caravaggio includes speculation that Caravaggio’s paintings of androgynous youths are due to the tastes of his patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, and not Caravaggio himself.1,2 I might add that these youths are also indicative of the tastes of the time and place in which Caravaggio lived and worked, and that he continued to use such images as saints, angels and cupids in later works as well. Thus, with a backwards glance Caravaggio’s paintings do contain androgynous images that can be forced into the 20th and 21st Century oeuvre, "homoerotica."3 This and very few hard facts have brought about speculation concerning Caravaggio’s sexuality. Donald Posner speculated about Caravaggio’s possible homosexuality as early as1971 in Art Quarterly.4 Supposition has continued ad infinitum to the present.

I refuse to enter into the extremely esoteric and confusing metaphysical argumentation concerning Caravaggio’s sexuality and it’s relationship to psychology, culture, and art as somehow traumatic in nature. At the least, I know Michelangelo Merisi to have been a genius, a confused and violent individual whose brilliance is evident in his masterful paintings. At most, the homoerotic images we see in Caravaggio’s early work are projected upon it based on our own location in time and place - Twenty-first Century America - and our over-blown concern with sex, sexuality in general, and specifically a late 20th and early 21st Century preoccupation with pederasty.

* Caravaggio, “Self Portrait as Sick Bacchus,” Olga’s Gallery,, revised September 24, 2007, viewed Wednesday, November 28, 2007 AM. EST.


1 Tovar, Brian, “Sins Against Nature: Homoeroticism and the Epistemology of Caravaggio.” Metaphysical Warmth,, © 2003, Brian Tovar, Viewed Wednesday, November 28, 2007, 9:59 AM. EST.

2Maurizio Calvesi, Caravaggio, Art Dossier 1986, Giunti Editori (1986) (ISBN not available)

3 Saslow, James M. Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.

4 Posner, Donald "Caravaggio's Early Homo-erotic Works.” Art Quarterly 24 (1971), 301-326.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Development of the Concept, "Homosexuality" creats our Understanding of Michelangelo's and Leonardo's Sexuality

Traditional 19th and 20th century gay male art is often about the magnificent male physique. The appearance of a contemporary alternative to that art in New York and other major art centers is about gay vision and its relationship to gay male sexuality. However, I wonder if the alternative is actually new as claimed by some contemporary critics?1 A look at the art produced by gay male artists makes it clear that there have been alternatives to art about the perfect male body, even as early as the Renaissance. I base my argument in part on a partial list of gay male artists, and in part on looking at the images of painting and sculpture produced by these artists during the past 500 years. I’ve placed each artist in one of two categories; 1) artists who make art about the ideal male body, and 2) artists who make art about a personal vision and its relationship to their sexuality.* I have applied my categorization to all gay male artists on the list even though I know that the conceptualization of and the word, “homosexual” did not exist earlier than 1869, the year in which Karl Maria Kertbeny created his system of human sexuality classification.2 In Kertbeny’s system, men attracted to women are heterosexual, masturbators are monosexualists, and others who engage in anal intercourse are designated as pygists. Kertbeny used his system to classify any/all kinds of human sexuality imaginable, and he did not intend to create the dichotomy, heterosexual versus homosexual that is so prevalent in the contemporary conceptualization of human sexuality.3

Thus, as I look back through time, I know and accept that both Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vince fit the contemporary conceptualization of homosexuality, though at the time neither of them knew and understood the possible categorization of human sexuality. Thus, I place both men on my list, Michelangelo in category one, Leonardo Da Vinci in Category two. That placement will be apodictic through the use of examples of both men’s work. First, a look at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling, specifically “The Creation of Adam,” in which God himself is depicted with a magnificently muscular male human form, despite the fact that he (God) is shown as an old man with a full head of white hair and a white beard. Of course the naked Adam is magnificent if under endowed, a sign of male beauty at the time.4 We are all familiar with Michelangelo’s “David,” for centuries considered to be the epitome of perfected male physique.5 Michelangelo’s women are muscular and rather masculine, seemingly created from a well-muscled male form with a female's head and breasts attached. Look at the muscular arms on the “Delphic Sybil.” 6 It is as though the beautifully constructed arms of an idealized male have been attached to the cloaked female form. Or consider the “Cumaean Sybil,” whose face is certainly not attractive according to contemporary norms, or Renaissance norms, and whose arms are idealized muscular and male in appearance in either case.7 Second, a look at Leonardo Da Vinci’s “St. Jerome” and other works supports the argument that these works offer a more intellectual alternative to Michelangelo’s hugely muscled male forms. In the case of “St. Jerome,” the arms are thin and twisted with age. Jerome’s face is skeletal, sinews stretched ropes to the protruding clavicles with gullies behind.8 “Vetruvius Man,” though Da Vinci was stating his ideal human proportions, is none the less without Michelangelo’s bulging musculature. Instead we find diminutive biceps, slight torso, and old slightly wrinkled face. The much later portrait of “John the Baptist,” is beyond androgynous, with pudgy arms and smooth skin. St. John’s face is also smooth and feminine with the same enigmatic smile possessed by the “Mona Lisa.”10 11 St. John is similar in style and form to Leonardo’s idealized women. Thus, it would seem that both Michelangelo and Leonardo were playing with transgressive images of human gender and sexuality 500 years ago, though neither was in possession of a Twenty-first Century knowledge of human sexuality. Additionally Leonardo's work offers us an alternative to Michelangelo's images of puffed up male musculature.

1 Risemberg, Rafael, “Gay Male Artists Thrive, Evolve: Assessing the current boon of queer exhibits,” New York Blade Online, November 09, 2007. Viewed Sunday, November 18, 2007, 9:12 A.M. EST.
Trebay, Guy, “Gay Art: A Movement, or at Least a Moment,” New York Times on Line, May 06, 2007. Viewed, Sunday, November 18, 2007, 8:50 A.M. EST.

* For the actual list as it stands at this time see my entry for November 19, 2007.

2 Wikholm, Andrew, “1869, Kertbeny coins the term ‘Homosexual,’”, Timeline: Culture and Identity. Copyright 1999. Viewed at 3:21 P.M., EST.

3 Klomp, John, Isaac Stoltzfus: Images about sexuality and Culture. Doctoral Dissertation, NYU, page 5. (2000)

4 Harden, Mark, “The Creation of Adam,” The Artchive, Copyright? Viewed Wednesday, November 21, 2007, 10:15 A.M., EST.

5 Harden, Mark, “The Delphic Sybil,” The Artchive,, Copyright? Viewed Wednesday, November 21, 2007, 10:15 A.M., EST.

6Harden, Mark, “The Delphic Sybil,” The Artchive, Copyright? Viewed Wednesday, November 21, 2007, 10:15 A.M., EST.

7Harden, Mark, “The Cumaean Sybil,” The Artchive, Copyright? Viewed Wednesday, November 21, 2007, 10:20 A.M., EST.

8 Harden, Mark, “St Jerome,” The Artchive, Copyright? Viewed Monday, November 26, 2007, 9:41 A.M., EST.

9 Harden, Mark, “Vetruvius Man,” The Artchive, Copyright? Viewed Monday, November 26, 2007, 9:41 A.M., EST.

10 Harden, Mark, “John, The Baptist,” The Artchive, Copyright? Viewed Monday, November 26, 2007, 9:50 A.M., EST.

11 Harden, Mark, “Mona Lisa,” The Artchive, Copyright? Viewed Monday, November 26, 2007, 10:02 A.M., EST.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Contemporary Alternative Gay Male Art Versus Traditional Gay Male Art about Male Anatomy

I've spent hours researching this topic though I originally intended to put but a few hours into the entire project. Today I wrote my thesis sentences - two, not one - and began a list of gay male artists throughout history.

Thesis Statement

Traditional gay male art is all about the magnificent male physique. The appearance of a contemporary alternative to that art in New York and other major art centers is about gay vision and its relationship to gay male sexuality.

List of Artists – not yet categorized by type; 1) About the Ideal Male Body, 2) Alternative to Category One

1. Michelangelo
2. Leonardo Da Vinci
3. Beauford Delaney
4. Paul Cadmus
5. Andy Warhol
6. George Platt Lynes
7. David Hockney
8. Robert Mapplethorpe
9. Pierre et Gilles
10. Tom of Finland
11. Keith Haring
12. Don Bachardy
13. F. Holland Day
14. Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden
15. Henry Scott Tuke
16. Caravaggio
17. Charles Demuth
18. David Wajnarowicz
19. Marsden Hartley

Of course the list is totally inadequate, though I don't intend to include every gay male artist of the past 500 years - that is an entirely different task.

I will do more with this topic at a future date.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Global Warming, Architecture, Art and my Art

This will be an ongoing series of articles dispersed periodically within the regular contents of the journal.

The natural coastal areas I draw, the salt-water marshes, beaches, canals, and mangroves near Juno Beach, Florida, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware will probably be destroyed within the next fifty to one hundred years because of our refusal to face up to the crisis caused by the over use of hydrocarbon fuels.

Cape Henlopen After the Storm (2007)

Our attempts to green the United States of America have been a disaster these past seven years because of Mr. Bush's willful negligence in preventing mandatory regulation. However, as an individual I am doing everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint without spending a fortune on wind and solar power – which I will do once I’ve saved enough money to invest in renewable energy. Meanwhile, I have kept 60% of my property in its natural state, and planted six new trees within the domesticated portion. I use reusable cotton bags when I go for groceries. I’ve installed florescent light bulbs, and LED lights wherever possible, and I’ve joined It’s not much, but if just 40 percent of the population worldwide did these few things, we would have a significant start on cutting the emission of greenhouse gases.

Because of my concern about climate change, I’ve researched art created about this contemporary crisis that TIME magazine calls “the great story of the 21st century.* In particular, I’ve discovered two green architects, Michael Singer and German del Sol. Of course, there is also Paolo Soleri whose urban architectural designs have been around for more than 60 years. Soleri (87 years of age) demonstrates his dedication to green design through his ongoing massive 40-year desert project, the city of Arcosanti. In fact, Soleri is probably the guru of carbon footprint reduction in urban architecture and design, and it is frustrating in the extreme to see very little discussion of his work in relation to our belated current fashionable recognition of climate change. On the other hand, Michael Singer’s architecture is extremely visible, a primary example at Denver's new International Airport. His architecture is about the relationship of man to nature, and his building designs expose an awareness of nature’s supreme ability to reclaim man’s urban centers and structures. Architect del Sol creates structures that show the contrast between nature and man through use of the traditional principles and elements of design, while attempting to establish a balance between the two. In this, I believe del Sol to be related to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, le Corbusier, and other 20th century architects through his use of long horizontals, curving lines, color contrasts, and other devises to intervene and contrast man’s spaces and natural spaces, and at the same time to demonstrate that man and nature can coexist.

*Editors, “Global Warming,” TIME books, Time Inc, New York (2007).

Monday, November 5, 2007

Frida Kahlo at the Walker Art Center

Oh to be so rich that I could afford to be eccentric - loco enough to just jump on a plane to Minneapolis in order to see this latest Show of the supreme self absorbed, pansexual, feminist (sort of) Mexican artist’s self-portraits. In my teaching days students would often make disparaging remarks concerning Frida’s appearance, the mono-brow, vestigial mustache, jet-black hair, and so on. I would reply truthfully that I thought Frida was beautiful, and that her self-portraits spoke to so much more than the artifice of surface beauty. That would lead to a discussion of her cosmology, her difficult pain filled life, and her love for Diego Rivera. My young women students did not understand how Frida managed to love Diego, but the young men often made nasty remarks concerning Frida’s masculine appearance and pansexuality. Being a public school classroom teacher in the first decade of the 21st century, these remarks had to be glossed over with a statement like, “John, we can’t explore that aspect of her life here because it is inappropriate to an art classroom.” How sad that we Americans are incapable of looking at ourselves as sexual creatures with individual variations on an infinite God given theme.

Be that as it may, since I'm not disgustingly rich, I wish I could beam myself to Minneapolis today and visit Frida at the Walker Art Center.