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.


John said...

As much as some of Caravaggio's painted nude turn me on, I agree with you comments. Having skimmed through (due to time limits) the two fairly recent biographies on the artist, the biographical facts on whether he had sex with me remain circumstantial. I agree that our analysis of this issue is difficult due the difference in past in male-male relationships. You find on Web, for example, photographs from "Old West" and even from male soldiers in WWII, and see men touching and hugging each other (even in nude) in ways which are obviously not self-conscious of others viewing such shows of affection in a shameful or sexual manner. And, this gap in our knowledge (of true understanding of male-male relationships), has to be even more dramatic when trying to interpret a Renassaince artist's choices in his work. Also, there are many other examples--in my experience--that other artist contermpary to him, have art that to me seems blatantly homoerotic (e.g. Raphael's St. Sebastian with large phallic arrows violating him; Michelango's "ignudi" on his famous chapel work.
John Capps MD, Gastonia, NC

DrawFellas said...

Agreed! I enjoy his work... does not matter what the truth is regarding his sexuality. The work can be great independant of the context.