History of Homosexuality: Renaissance Edition
The relationships of socially prominent figures, such as King James I and the Duke of Buckingham, served to highlight the issue, including in anonymously authored street pamphlets: “The world is changed I know not how, For men Kiss Men, not Women now;…Of J. the First and Buckingham: He, true it is, his Wives Embraces fled, To slabber his loved Ganymede” (Mundus Foppensis, or The Fop Display’d, 1691).
Focusing back on Florence
Leonardo, as he is almost always called, was trained to be a painter. But his interests and achievements spread into an astonishing variety of fields that are now considered scientific specialties. Leonardo studied anatomy, astronomy, botany, geology, geometry, engineering, and optics, and he designed machines and drew plans for hundreds of inventions.
Because Leonardo excelled in such an amazing number of areas of human knowledge, he is often called a universal genius. However, he had little interest in literature, history, or religion. He formulated a few scientific laws, but he never developed his ideas systematically. Leonardo was most of all an excellent observer. He concerned himself with what the eye could see, rather than with purely abstract concepts.
Little is known about the life of Leonardo da Vinci. He kept copious notebooks, but these contain only sketches and speculations. Much of what we know of him comes from tax records, legal documents, and secondhand sources.
Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in the town of Vinci. His father was Ser Piero, a lawyer; his mother, Caterina, came of a peasant family. They were not married. The boy's uncle Francesco may have had more of a hand in his upbringing than by either of his parents. When Leonardo was about 15, he moved to the nearby city of Florence and became an apprentice to the artist Andrea del Verrocchio. He was already a promising talent.
However, the charges were dismissed in June, due to a lack of witnesses and evidence. It is probable that the Medici family brought had something to do with this outcome, as another of the defendants was Lionardo de Tornabuoni, and Lorenzo de Medici's mother had been a Tornabuoni.
The period immediately following the case was a productive one for Leonardo. Sometime in the mid-1470s, he worked on the Portrait of Ginevra de Benci. In 1478, he received what was probably his first commission: a religious group wanted him to paint an Adoration of the Shepherds. He did a few preliminary sketches but then abandoned the project. Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci
Although Leonardo managed to be fairly productive in Florence, it is not surprising that he left. He was not able to complete either of the major commissions he received, the two "Adorations." He was charged with sodomy. Although many biographers gloss over this issue, quickly stating that the case was dismissed, it is important for two reasons.
First, it was perhaps the start of a lifetime of paranoia on Leonardo's part (I don't blame him). He often drew grotesque pictures of gossiping townspeople, and he rated calumny, or malicious gossip, as a serious evil.
No witnesses appeared against them and eventually the charges were dropped. It must be said that often anonymous charges like this were brought against people just for a nuisance. Renaissance Florentines didn't make the distinctions we make about sexuality today and apparently it was common for young men to get into sexual relationships; in fact, the word "Florenzer" was German slang for "homosexual".
While at the studio, he aided his master with his Baptism of Christ, and eventually painted his own Annunciation. Around the age of 30, Leonardo began his own practice, starting work on the Adoration of the Magi; however, he soon abandoned it and moved to Milan in 1482.
Leonardo had no relationships with women, never married, had no children, and raised many young protégés, including one nicknamed "Salai" which means "offspring of Satan", sketches of whom are shown above. Salai stole things, broke things, lied, and was generally a, well, devil; if he were a mere student or servant he would have been sacked. It's not hard for me to see how this imp would be attractive to Leonardo (or to me, now that I mention it). He stayed with Leonardo for over twenty years, and appears many times in Leonardo's sketchbooks. Leonardo left the Mona Lisa to Salai.
In 1500, Leonardo arrived in Florence, where he painted the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. He was very Notebook sketch interested in mathematics at this time. In 1502, he went to work as chief military engineer to Cesare Borgia, and also became acquainted with Niccolo Machiavelli. After a year he returned to Florence, where he contributed to the huge engineering project of diverting the course of the River Arno, and also painted a giant war mural, the Battle of Anghiari, which was never completed, largely due to problems with the paints. In 1505 Leonardo probably made his first sketches for the Mona Lisa, but it is not known when he completed the painting.