Tommaso de’ Cavalieri was a young man with an aristocratic background when he first met famous artist Michelangelo Buonarroti in Rome. Tommaso was known to be an incomparable physical beauty, with intelligence and elegant manners, as well as being a member of one of the most illustrious families of Rome—the Orsini. Some have said this is what drew the artist to Cavalieri from the start. Though not much is known about their encounter, it is confirmed that Cavalieri remained a close and loyal companion to Michelangelo for thirty-two years until the artist’s death in 1564. Furthermore, throughout their years together as friends, there passed between them several letters and even a collection of drawings which contain scenes of suggested homoeroticism. Some scholars have stated that Tommaso became the object of Michelangelo’s affection, his muse, and the inspiration for the letters, drawings, and numerous poems. Given the artist’s contested sexuality, the nature of these drawings and the men’s relationship has been examined by numerous art historians. The drawings consisted of classical motifs and narratives which exhibit themes of ecstasy and punishment for partaking in something forbidden. In other words, the drawings present scenes which illustrate giving into something and a subsequent consequence. Additionally, given the homoerotic nature of the drawings, the conclusion would be that homosexuality is the “forbidden fruit” which Michelangelo refers to, and therefore would indicate Michelangelo subconsciously harbored internalized homophobia. This would further indicate a proposed or failed romantic attachment which could not be sustained with the artist’s own internalized homophobia, produced by restrictive laws and a largely Christian society of sixteenth century Italy. Michelangelo Buonarroti gave Tommaso a multitude of drawings, including, The Rape of Ganymede, The Punishment of Tityus, The Fall of Phaethon, The Children’s Bacchanal and The Dream, as well as letters and poetry to communicate certain messages to Tommaso, such as his affections for the young man in a society which had cultivated internalized homophobia for the artist.
Ray, Grace T. O.
"Michelangelo Buonarroti and Homophobia in the Renaissance,"
The Confluence: Vol. 2:
1, Article 2.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.lindenwood.edu/theconfluence/vol2/iss1/2
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