Immortal art and confirmed bachelors

It would be nice to live in a world where someone’s gender or sexual orientation was unremarkable and didn’t come up in workplace matters or in courtrooms – where it would actually be odd to refer to it.

But that’s not the world we live in now. Homosexuality, for example, is regarded very differently depending on where in the world you find yourself. In Iran, there is none, if you believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Or in Chechnya, either.

The map below comes from this site, where you can find a breakdown of how gay people stand. There are ten countries were homosexuality now is punishable by death.


In general, North America and Western Europe are on the right side of history here and seem to be illuminating the path forward. But it’s a daily struggle.

Yesterday, Trump signed his  “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” order, saying, “For too long the federal government has used the state as a weapon against people of faith.” The long national nightmare of persecution of Christians may be coming to an end. But many Evangelicals are not happy about it. They’re pretty miffed, in fact.

See, they were expecting Trump to include language that he had promised, and that had appeared in earlier drafts of the order, which would allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees based on faith beliefs. Slate commented on the original language:

“a homophobic government employee could refuse to process a same-sex couple’s tax returns or Social Security benefits; federally funded religious charities could refuse to serve transgender people or women who’ve had abortions; and government contractors could fire all LGBTQ employees, as well as any workers who’ve had sex outside of marriage. Meanwhile, a homeless shelter or drug treatment program that receives federal funding could reject LGBTQ people at the door, citing religious beliefs.”

Apparently, Trump was somehow made to understand that in pleasing the evangelicals on this point, he would be displeasing a larger segment of voters, so his “core principles” kicked in, and he decided in favor of getting more “likes” and “re-tweets” with the new version, leaving the LGBT community alone, at least for now.

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about the Italian Renaissance (bet you didn’t see that coming!), because it’s pretty clear that it produced some of the most beautiful and enduring works of art mankind has ever seen, and many if not most of these works were produced by homosexuals. Moreover, the principal patrons and beneficiaries of this torrent of creativity were churches and other religious institutions, including and especially the very center of Christendom itself, the Vatican.

In Florence, where Lorenzo the Magnificent was amping up the patronage and philanthropy exemplified by his grandfather Cosimo de Medici, you had a raft of “confirmed bachelors”, working more-or-less contemporaneously, producing art that can only be called immortal.

Lorenzo death mask

Death Mask of Lorenzo de Medici, 1492 

Here’s an interesting read that explains the official attitude towards homosexuality at the time,

During the Renaissance, Florence developed a reputation for being pervaded with homosexuality – “sodomy” in the language of the time. Smarting from this reputation, reeling from population loss suffered during the Black Death, and pressured by homophobic clerics, in 1432 the city government set up a judicial panel called “The Office of the Night” exclusively to solicit and investigate charges of sodomy.

It goes on to say that although the population of Florence at the time was about 40,000, there were 17,000 arrests for sodomy during the 70-year tenure of the Office of the Night. That’s a lot – nearly half the male population for two generations.

But in the meantime, in the studios and palaces of the wealthy, the guys were hard at work.

The model for Verrocchio’s “David” is thought to be the fourteen-year-old Leonardo da Vinci:


Donatello’s “David” really speaks for itself, n’est-ce pas?


Michelangelo’s “David” is the most famous and perhaps most beautiful:


All these bachelors worked for the Medicis, as did lots of others, including Sandro Botticelli:


Birth of Venus

When it was time to decorate St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Lorenzo lent out a few of his guys to the popes. Michelangelo and Botticelli painted the Sistine Chapel.

Botticelli’s frescoes:

botticelli frescoes

Michelangelo’s ceiling:


Out in the main part of the Basilica you can find Michelangelo’s Pieta, perhaps the most beautiful single object ever created by human hands, done at age 24.


Anyway, this is not the place to summarize the brilliant body of contributions made by “confirmed bachelors” to the world in general, and to the church in particular.

Today’s point is that it would be nice not to have to reference anything about the personal lives of these geniuses and to let their art stand on its own. Maybe we’ll all get to that point some day. But today I think it’s useful to point out to the National Association of Evangelicals that employing gay people is not something they need to promote laws against.


3 thoughts on “Immortal art and confirmed bachelors”

  1. I think that one of our defining qualities is wanting, needing really, to belong. And most ‘belonging’ means being against or hating those that don’t belong to your thing. That’s all religions (Buddhism doesn’t count), all political parties, the confederacy, and all things that are different from ME and mine. So sad; when change happens it’s like that bigotry was never there. Women’s vote, Protestantism. It does happen but it takes so long.


Have your say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s