Today In Gay History: Caravaggio Loved John

7.18.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

Italian artist's paintings have fueled 400 years of speculation.

As with Barbara Stanwyck, Caravaggio can't be definitively described as gay. No such designation existed back in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Italian artist (1571-1610) spent his years painting the male body in the sexiest light possible.

Considering that fascination, particularly his obsession with John the Baptist, one has to assume Caravaggio had at the very least a strong curiosity.

Director Derek Jarman took that assumption and turned it into a full-blown gay affair in his 1986 biopic showing the pugnacious Baroque painter falling for street fight Ranuccio. The idea that the men were lovers has more recently been challenged.

But even if Caravaggio weren't gay, his work and the centuries of debate over his private life are enough to make him a gay icon in his own right.

In honor of the artist's death 403 years ago today, and the many fantasies his paintings have spawned over the centuries, here are seven of his most famous, most lustfilled paintings, mostly of John the Baptist, as well as the trailer for Jarman's Caravaggio, starring Dexter Fletch as the titular artist, Tilda Swinton as his lady love Lena, and Sean Bean as Ranuccio.

"Boy with a Basket of Fruit," 1593:

"Christ at the Column," 1607:

"John the Baptist," 1598:

"John the Baptist," 1604:

"John the Baptist," 1604:

"John the Baptist," 1610:

"John the Baptist," 1600:

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