12.2k readers

How Michelangelo's Relationships With Men Inspired His Art And Stuck It To The Catholic Church

Updated March 9, 2019 12.2k views14 items

Michelangelo was more than a sculptor and painter — he also used his platform to display his admiration of men in an era that did not look fondly on any form of non-heterosexual physical or romantic relationships. When he painted the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo used the muscular bodies of working Romans he met in the bathhouses as his models, transforming one of the holiest chapels in Catholicism into an altar to the male form. These Michelangelo facts show the artist's genius was linked to his sexuality, which he refused to hide.

Despite of all his visits to the bathhouse, Michelangelo reportedly never bathed. Instead, he used the experience to study men in the baths, just like he traded art for corpses to learn more about anatomy. Other Michelangelo inspirations include a 20-something nobleman who a 50-something Michelangelo wooed with love poems, as well as male pleasure workers and young apprentices who appeared in Michelangelo's art as biblical heroes. Michelangelo's entire career celebrated the male form, even in the heart of the Catholic Church.

  • He Was A Master Of The Male Form, But Breasts Baffled Him

    Michelangelo may be the most famous sculptor in history. While he is best known for the masterful David, an homage to the male form, the artist wasn't as familiar with female bodies. Take, for example, the sculpture Night in the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici (pictured on the right). The toned and muscled masculine-looking physique seems interrupted by solid marble breasts that look as if they were tacked onto the muscled chest.

  • His Enemy Found Himself Painted Into Hell

    Not everyone in the Vatican appreciated Michelangelo's celebration of the male form. But the artist got his revenge when Biagio da Cesena, the master of ceremonies for the pope, complained about the "shameful parts" in the Sistine Chapel. Biagio claimed the male forms made the chapel feel reminiscent of a bathhouse or cathouse. Michelangelo responded by using Biagio's face as his model for Minos, depicted in the Last Judgment with a snake biting his member.

  • His Muscular Jesus Went Against Renaissance Beauty Standards
    Photo: Tetraktys / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    His Muscular Jesus Went Against Renaissance Beauty Standards

    Michelangelo reportedly had a type: according to scholar John Spike, the artist often drew "really beefy guys." There's no better example than Jesus in the Last Judgment, looking quite different than the slender, almost emaciated Jesus represented in many Renaissance scenes of the crucifixion.

    Spike adds that Michelangelo's muscular men also didn't fit with the Renaissance standard of male beauty, indicating the artist's choice may have represented his personal preferences.

  • He Had A Reputation For Chasing Young Men

    Michelangelo's tastes for men were apparently well known. As Michelangelo recalled in a letter to his friend, a man once described his son to him to convince the artist to take him on as an apprentice. The father jokingly declared, "Once you saw him, you'd chase him into bed the minute you got home!"