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Was Michelangelo's 'Last Judgment' inspired by visits to brothels and bathhouses?

November 17, 2010 | 12:58 pm

Lastjudgement Michelangelo's fresco "The Last Judgment" resides in one of the holiest places in the Christian world -- the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Now a researcher is claiming that Michelangelo's inspiration for some of the figures in the 16th century masterpiece came from a far less exalted realm -- the brothels and bathhouses of Renaissance-era Italy.

As reported in Britain's the Guardian and Daily Telegraph, author Elena Lazzarini, a researcher from Pisa University, has published a study stating that Michelangelo was inspired by his frequent visits to gay brothels and Turkish baths. The author points out instances of homoerotic imagery in "The Last Judgment," including a man being pulled by his testicles and scenes of strenuous nude male activity.

Lazzarini told the Daily Telegraph that prostitution -- both male and female -- was likely to have taken place at bathhouses around that time.

Michelangelo is widely believed by historians and scholars to have been homosexual. His artwork and poetry contains oblique references to gay desire. When "The Last Judgment" was first unveiled, the Vatican condemned it as obscene and indecent. Later, the church hired another artist to paint over some of the fresco's depictions of genitalia. 

Lazzarini told the Guardian that Michelangelo was "inspired by the virile, muscular manual workers and porters [he] would have seen during his visits to the baths."

The director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that the new theories aren't a cause for embarassment for the church: "Michelangelo studied the human form everywhere, including in hospitals. And that passion for the human body, particularly male, remains unchanged. If there was any embarrassment it was at the time, not now."

"The Last Judgment" underwent a major restoration in 1984 that lasted 10 years.

-- David Ng

Photo: Pope John Paul II celebrating mass under Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment" in 1996. Credit: Associated Press


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Comments () | Archives (13)

Didn't they have Don't ask, Don't tell???

Wow, two em-dash mistakes in the first paragraph. What you want there are colons.

Excellent, but it would have been even better if you had credited Gawker, which posted this, with seven examples of details from the fresco to prove the point, yesterday.

what? gay? there were no gay people back then

"a man being pulled by his testicles and scenes of strenuous nude male activity". Um, seems someone is transposing their own issues onto others. Strenuous physical activity is gay? LMAO! And being pulled by the balls, unless a masochist, seems like torture by demons to me.

Michelangelo was blackmailed by Vasari with gay accusations which he denied and attacked. Now, he was almost certainly gay by nature, he may or may not have ever acted on the primal drives. He was a tortured soul, and very religious. Not everyone is as hedonistic as todays culture would like it to seem, thats for the media and fashion/art world to justify their own depravity, hetero and homo.

The Last Judgment showed Michelangelo's fears, and done when old. Probably past his sexin days by then, people aged alot quicker than now, and most were dead by 50. We think we are mini gods and will live forever, death having been sterilized and taken out of view. It was all around then. life was taken a little more seriously than this wannabe writer and leach would have you believe.

Proven once again,
art collegia delenda est
Fine art colleges must be destroyed

Read Donald Frazell's comment for valuable elucidation;
Catholic Closet Case Guilt (with or without the use of
colons) causes a lot of anxiety, dissembling, and
apparently, academic panic. Sometimes, testicles really
are erotic. Let's hope Mr. Frazell has the strength to
stay away from the Sistine Chapel. Temptation, you know.

Your touching concern is duly noted. As I was just talking with your colleague, my sister in law, a trauma Dr. at King/Drew where we just had an event on health for black and latino women. The major health concern now being the downlow brother/hermano, as AIDS is now more a sexual issue for women than drug related. As in openly bisexual and man philandering central Africa, our open sexual depravity must be dealt with honestly. Documented

We also just had a booth at a hiphop dance event, where the good folks next to us had some lovely gent whose big hit is Rootie tootie(pause) in the bootie(pause again). They were giving out free condoms, and a HIV testing center outside, but more as a cover for their recruiting fresh new meat for their table. Unknown what the manufacturer was, probably some cheap chinese knockoffs found in the back alley. The girls were being groomed for decadence with songs that would suddenly say" I am gonna do your mother in the @&&", and then back to just attitude with not so subliminal sugeestion. The kids are being numbed into soulessness and a lack of ethics and self love by our advertising. Sex isnt the issue, perverting it is, which is also shown in the Last Judgment

So you concern for our children is taken as it was meant, a great balm to our parental concerns for our boys and girls. I am sure Michelangelo would agree with us, not so sure about the "author" of this Academic expose. We all know what a pure and caring place Hollywood is, which always puts the consumer($) first.

Have a nice day, good? dr.?

Unlikely, I should think. Most serious scholars believe that Michelangelo was prudish to the point of puritanism in his private life. Although it has long been accepted that homoeroticism is a major theme in his art, many historians believe Michelangelo was not sexually active at all, and while his poetry does indeed reflect "gay desire," it is construed in stridently chaste Neo-Platonist terms. Because these ideas are foreign and strange to us, and because Michelangelo's art seems to speak to us in such direct ways, we often find it easy to project our own thoughts and desires onto it, not appreciating that they are the products of our age, and not of his. Even speaking of 'homosexuality' in Renaissance Italy is not really appropriate, as such categories clearly did not exist.

If anything, the tortured male figures in Buonarotti's art might be construed as saying something about the artist's own anguished relationship between his yearning for spiritual purity and the desires of the physical world. But this too would just be speculation.

Non è sempre di colpa aspra e mortale
d’una immensa bellezza un fero ardore,
se poi sì lascia liquefatto il core,
che ’n breve il penetri un divino strale.

("Fierce desire for an immense beauty is not always a harsh and mortal sin if it so melts the heart that a divine shaft may penetrate there more swiftly" - Michelangelo Sonnet G.260, trans. AJ Smith and SA James)

What does homosexuality have to do with visiting brothels and baths since a heterosexual also visited them and could just as easily have studied the nude without pruriency?

I think that homosexuality has no bearing on the way he poses the figures; "He has got me by the balls" refers not to sexuality of any kind but to all kinds of predicaments.

So what, Who cares

Lazzarini told the Guardian that Michelangelo was "inspired by the virile, muscular manual workers and porters [he] would have seen during his visits to the baths."

And perhaps by all the Hellenic and Roman sculpture that was being dug up and imported at the time. All the bodies are posed highly theatrically, doubt many would have been "voguing" during their"strenous physical activity". LOL!


One can hope.


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