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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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