Was Renaissance Artist Leonardo da Vinci Gay ? Part 2

About the Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci and the debate over whether or not he was a homosexual.



Maybe Yes, Maybe No: In 1476 Leonardo and three other young Florentines were anonymously accused of committing sodomy with an angelically beautiful boy model and male prostitute named Jacopo Saltarelli. The Ufficiali di Notte e dei Monasteri, Florence's very sinister vice squad, frequently acted on such denunciations, which anyone could make without proof or even without revealing themselves, by dropping a note in a "suggestion box" called the tamburo. Leonardo was actually confined for two months and subjected to a grilling into his sexual life and thoughts that was quite as thorough as, and far more brutal than, a contemporary encounter group procedure. Eventually the charges were dropped without a trial.

The case for Leonardo's homosexuality rests first on this incident. Secondly, there is absolutely no trace of a woman in his life, but there was a series of beautiful boy apprentices of apparently little artistic talent. Finally, Sigmund Freud argued in his Leonardo da Vinci: A Study in Psychosexuality that the master was at least a repressed homosexual. Freud pointed to Leonardo's classic intense devotion to, not one, but two mothers (the second was his father's wife), and he fastened on a childhood dream which Leonardo recorded in which a vulture placed its tail in his mouth. Eureka! A fellatio wish if Freud ever saw one.

But Freud's argument is embarrassing to all but his most devoted disciples. It is probably his silliest book. As for the other evidence, it is purely circumstantial and very weak. Leonardo defended his solitary life very convincingly on artistic grounds. If the "Officials of the Night" with their indelicate methods decided not to prosecute a vulnerable young artist, then surely the "Saltarelli Case" must be thrown out of court today. As for the pretty boy apprentices, the literati and artists of Renaissance Italy, Leonardo among them, were wholly enraptured by Platonism and all things of ancient Greece. This included the cult of the youthful male, his idealization as humanity's physical, intellectual, and moral perfection.

Is this homosexual? Possibly, but not necessarily. We have no record as to whether or not Leonardo actually engaged in sexual activity with his male apprentices. The truth may well be something far more incredible to our times--that in fact Leonardo had no sex life at all.

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