Was Michelangelo gay? The writing’s on the wall, or on the ceiling, in museums, in notebooks, and ledgers and everywhere else the Renaissance artist’s work can be found. Yet for centuries, Mikey’s sexuality was obscured—as homosexuality so often is. It was Michelangelo’s descendent, grandnephew Michelangelo The Younger, who re-wrote his famous forebearer’s gay poetry in 1623 to read as if they were written by a woman. It was 19th-century gay critic John Addington Symonds who brought the truth to light in his 1893 translations.
Here is one of the many poems Michelangelo wrote to Tommaso dei Cavalieri, one of the many younger men he adored:
"With your fair eyes a charming light I see,
For which my own blind eyes would peer in vain;
Stayed by your feet the burden I sustain
Which my lame feet find all too strong for me;
Wingless upon your pinions forth I fly;
Heavenward your spirit stirreth me to strain;
E'en as you will, I blush and blanch again,
Freeze in the sun, burn 'neath a frosty sky.
Your will includes and is the lord of mine;
Life to my thoughts within your heart is given;
My words begin to breathe upon your breath:
Like to the moon am I, that cannot shine
Alone; for lo! our eyes see nought in heaven
Save what the living sun illumineth."
No, Michelangelo’s poems aren’t as hot as WH Auden’s ode to oral sex, but they’re passionate and from the heart—and just another example of Michelangelo’s immense talent. The artist is yet another example of how gay men have contributed to culture as a whole. Without Michelangelo, the Renaissance may have just fallen flat. (The same gay argument has been made about Leonardo da Vinci, though the third Renaissance heavyweight, Raphael, seems to have been straight.)
Even if it weren’t for the Sistine Chapel or his architectural designs for St. Peter’s or Sagrestia Nuova, Michelangelo, born in Caprese on this date in 1475, at least gave us plenty of hard bodies upon which to gaze. Here, in honor of the great artist’s life and legacy, a slideshow of some of Michelangelo’s magnificent sculptures of the male form. If nothing else, at least he gave us all something to drool over, even all these centuries later.