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Gadsden, Mary Louisa
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In Olympus, Zeus granted him eternal youth and immortality and the office of cupbearer to the gods, in place of his daughter Hebe who was relieved of her duties as cupbearer upon her marriage to Herakles. Edmund Veckenstedt associated Ganymede with the genesis of the intoxicating drink mead , which had a traditional origin in Phrygia. Zeus later put Ganymede in the sky as the constellation Aquarius the "water-carrier" or "cup-carrier" , which is associated with that of the Eagle Aquila. In poetry, Ganymede became a symbol for the beautiful young male who attracted homosexual desire and love.

He is not always portrayed as acquiescent: in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes , Ganymede is furious at the god Eros for having cheated him at the game of chance played with knucklebones , and Aphrodite scolds her son for "cheating a beginner. In fifth-century Athens, vase-painters often depicted the mythological story, which was so suited to the all-male symposium or formal banquet. The Ganymede myth was treated in recognizable contemporary terms, illustrated with common behavior of homoerotic courtship rituals, as on a vase by the "Achilles Painter" where Ganymede also flees with a cock.

Ganymede is usually depicted as a well-developed, muscular young man. Leochares about BCE , a Greek sculptor of Athens who was engaged with Scopas on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus cast a lost bronze group of Ganymede and the Eagle, a work that was held remarkable for its ingenious composition, which boldly ventured to the verge of what is allowed by the laws of sculpture, and also for its charming treatment of the youthful form as it soars into the air. It is apparently imitated in a well-known marble group in the Vatican, half life-size.


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Such Hellenistic gravity-defying feats were influential in the sculpture of the Baroque. In Shakespeare's As You Like It , a comedy of mistaken identity in the magical setting of the Forest of Arden , Celia, dressed as a shepherdess, becomes "Aliena" Latin "stranger", Ganymede's sister and Rosalind, because she is "more than common tall", dresses up as a boy, Ganymede, a well-known image to the audience.

She plays on her ambiguous charm to seduce Orlando, but also involuntarily the shepherdess Phoebe. Thus behind the conventions of Elizabethan theater in its original setting, the young boy playing the girl Rosalind dresses up as a boy and is then courted by another boy playing Phoebe. When painter-architect Baldassare Peruzzi included a panel of The Rape of Ganymede in a ceiling at the Villa Farnesina, Rome, ca — , Ganymede's long blond hair and girlish pose make him identifiable at first glance, though he grasps the eagle's wing without resistance. Rubens ' version portrays a young man. But when Rembrandt painted the Rape of Ganymede for a Dutch Calvinist patron in , a dark eagle carries aloft a plump cherubic baby Paintings Gallery, Dresden who is bawling and urinating in fright.

In fact, the story was often "heterosexualized. Michelangelo's Ganymede. Copy after a lost original pencil. Royal Collection , Windsor Castle. The Rape of Ganymede , by Rubens. The Abduction of Ganymede by Rembrandt. The Induction of Ganymede in Olympus by van Loo. My first thought, my first flash was that it was a beautiful woman The angel was beautiful, with a face dominated by immense, lustrous green eyes and framed by golden ringlets, and with a bow mouth and full lips and brilliant white teeth.

And only then, only after I had felt that first rush of improbable carnal lust, did it occur to me that this angel was a man. Cambridge University Press. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Young male figure from Greek mythology, "the most beautiful of mortals". This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. For other uses, see Ganymede. This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources.


  • Ganymede (mythology).
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  • November Learn how and when to remove this template message. Homer — Iliad 5. This drama takes us to Florence, cultural capital of the Renaissance world, to behold titanic egos in collision. It is a spectacle of sublime ambition and low cunning, of great minds and petty dislikes, of genius stepping off its plinth to live among the flawed passions of a city of flesh and blood.

    The newborn modern self is about to take the stage in all its agony and ecstasy. He had to leave Florence on a military mission, and so he T stored some of his most precious possessions in two chests at a monastery, one of which contained his books. But if his reading material offers insights into his mind, his handwritten description of the contents of the other box gives us a uniquely intimate glimpse of his daily existence.

    Leonardo wrote his clothing inventory in a notebook known today as Madrid Codex II which he carried around with him from to and filled with notes that abound with insight into his life in Florence in those years. His inventory brings us disconcertingly close to the very skin of this Renaissance dandy: One gown of taffeta One lining of velvet that can be used as a gown One Arab cloak One gown of dusty rose One pink Catalan gown One dark purple cape, with big collar and hood of velvet One gown of Salai, laced a la Francaise One cape a la Francaise, that was Duke Valentino's, of Salai One Flemish gown, Salai's One purple satin overcoat One overcoat of crimson satin, a la Francaise Another overcoat of Salai, with cuffs of black velvet One dark purple camel-hair overcoat One pair of dark purple tights One pair of dusty-rose tights One pair of black tights Two pink caps One grain-coloured hat One shirt of Reims linen, worked a la Francaise This is an exquisite's costume chest.

    Not the least striking of its contents are four garments specified as "di Salai" — meaning that Leonardo's clothes were mixed up with those of his workshop assistant Salai. In the sixteenth century it was said this Salai "was most attractive in grace and beauty, having beautiful hair, curly and bright, in which Leonardo delighted much. The list of clothes reveals how close they were: there's even an alteration where "di Salai" was added later, as if there were some dispute over who owned what. Yet the garments ascribed to Salai are far more conventional than Leonardo's own clothes.

    The coat with black velvet cuffs that belongs to the assistant could have come straight out of numerous sixteenth-century portraits of stylish young men, such as the disdainful individual in black portrayed by Lorenzo Lotto in against a white curtain that emphasises his severe dress. When Salai went around in clothes that were obviously expensive yet muted in hue, he showed fashionably restrained good taste. Leonardo by contrast dressed almost exclusively in pink and purple, a delicate palette that harmonised with his own paintings.

    It was as if he were a character escaped from a fresco. Surely this was a deliberate badge of professional identity — wearing colours that might have been mixed in his own workshop. Leonardo believed in painting as a vocation, an ethos, a way of life. The painter, he exulted, "sits in front of his work well-dressed and moves a very light brush with lovely colours, and is adorned with clothes as he pleases In fact Leonardo's taste in dress was of a piece with his aspirations as a painter.

    From his very earliest works, one of his overriding fascinations is with how oil paints can reproduce the transparencies and opacities, folds and twists, brightness and darkness of textiles. Among the first drawings that can be ascribed to him are studies of drapery which convey not just the weight of cloth as it hangs in mountainous creases, the shadowy valleys between folds, but the very grain of woven fabric.

    In his youthful Annunciation, both Mary and the angel are decked out in garments of almost curdling richness and a colour range of great complexity and power. Mary has blue skirts which turn into a robe covering her right shoulder, a glow of gold satin at her elbow and over her midriff, and beneath all this, a red dress with pale purple belt and collar.

    The angel wears a white tunic tied at the arm with a violet ribbon, a drapery of green, and long, dark red robes. It is as if they were waiting patiently while Leonardo draped them according to his fantasy — for Mary's blue skirts are not really skirts at all but an enormous cloth he has arranged on her shoulder and legs, spreading it over a chair arm whose form becomes an enigmatic bulge. From the clinging dresses of goddesses carved on the pediment of the Parthenon in fiffh-century-B.

    Athens to the precious work of Leonardo's teacher Verrocchio with its ribbons fluttering in the air, textiles swag the history of art. Yet no one has ever painted clothes quite as consummately as Leonardo. If he does have predecessors, they are the Gothic painters of fifteenth-century Germany and the Netherlands.

    The massive capaciousness of Leonardo's draperies, the apparently arbitrary spread and redundant quantity of cloth, resembles the heavy fabrics of North European art. There are strange rewards for the curious eye in watching him pour deep shadows down valleys of satin, weaving mysterious daydreams and conjuring phantom forms in an art that begins by dwelling on powerfully coloured, ornately folded draperies and evolves to encompass the most gossamer of translucent gauzes.

    This evolution is apparent in the first and second versions of his composition The Virgin of the Rocks, which he first painted in the s and then re-created in a picture still unfinished in The earlier version has an angel swathed in bright, bulky red and green satin; the angel in the later painting wears a sleeve whose gold-embroidered tracery floats on transparent layers of light-filled, colourless material gradually forming into a white creaminess.

    It is a sturjefvinelv intricate effect — precisely the tvDe of challenge Leonardo sought as a painter. In The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, which he worked on more or less to the end of his life, he again gives the Virgin a semi-transparent filigree sleeve. Having learned from the Gothic-tinged training of his youth in s and '70s Florence to depict draperies with a crisp attention to their folds, he became in his maturity obsessed with the ambiguous semi-transparency of gauzes and veils.

    That is how Leonardo hangs clothes on women and angels. Women appear in far more of his surviving paintings than men do — four portraits of women exist by him. Even Ginevra de' Benci, who posed for one of his earliest and plainest paintings in about , sports a black velvet scarf that contrasts sensually with her simple brown dress and pale skin. There's only one portrait of a man, a young musician whose costume isn't especially interesting or well preserved. There is, however, one painting by Leonardo that is full of male figures nobly robed.

    The Last Supper started to rot and flake the second he set down his brush for the last time in the monks' canteen of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan in Restorations and repaintings over the centuries added layer on layer of glue and pigment to try and preserve what people thought — long after living memory was lost — the picture must have looked like. The most recent perhaps quixotic restoration pared away these later layers to get as close as possible to the "original" paint.

    The fragmented result is infinitely paler and drier than any of the artist's better-preserved paintings, with scarcely a hint of the low-toned ambiguities he loved. While this makes it hard to interpret the appearance of the clothes, it is apparent that he arranged the men's robes as freely and sculpturally as he layered satins and gauzes on his female models. At the far end of the table on our left, Bartholomew stands up from his seat in shock at Christ's revelation that one of the disciples will shortly betray him; the heavy green robe over his thin blue tunic gathers in a bunch on his shoulder and hangs in the air, defying gravity as impossibly as the crinkly satin garments that float unsupported in Leonardo's later Virgin and Child with St.

    Look again at the same disciple. What is the green drapery I've called a robe? It falls in a mass onto the table, bunches extravagantly on Bartholemew's back, and is piled around his lower body. It is just as wilful and gratuitous as the voluminous skirts of the Virgin in his youthful Annunciation. In fact all the disciples at Leonardo's table are just as artfully clad. What is the garment slung over one shoulder of the feminine-looking John, seated at Christ's right hand? It is simply a loose cloth, there at the painter's whim and as pink as the clothes in his own wardrobe.

    Further along the table, James the Minor's crinkly shift is also pink. Long before he painted this heroic and tragic scene, Leonardo drew the portrait of an executed criminal. He was still in his twenties when, in December , he stood in the high, narrow courtyard of the Palace of the Podesta — today's Bargello Museum — in Florence and recorded the appearance of a hanged man in a few perfect pen strokes. Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli swings, in Leonardo's drawing, from a rope that inclines, like his mirror-inverted writing, leftward on the page.

    The dead man's hands are tied behind his back and his legs hang limply. The terrible thing about him is his face. The eyes are deep dark voids, already looking like the empty sockets of a skull. The skin, Leonardo suggests in a couple of lines, is discoloured. There are clear signs of rot and postmortem decay on this face, the only part of Baroncelli's body that is naked.

    The rest of his body may be equally emaciated and skeletal, but it looks more alive, more human, because every part of it except the face is concealed by clothes. Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli was hanged in Florence in the last days of for his part in a conspiracy that had claimed the life of Giuliano de' Medici, brother to the city's ruler, Lorenzo the Magnificent.

    It was said that Baroncelli plunged the first dagger into the victim, but while his fellow conspirators rapidly suffered horrible retribution, he escaped to Constantinople. When he was finally dragged back from the Ottoman city, he was hanged still wearing the Turkish coat and slippers in which he had disguised himself. Leonardo dwells on the assassin's exotic clothes, already a bit big for the corpse that shrinks within their bulk.

    He captures with his pen the soft folds of a long coat, the distinctive bobble buttons on its collar, and its fringe of fur. He records the executed assassin's slippers and skullcap and tights. In a note written as a column next to the swaying body he gives precise descriptions of each garment: A little tan cap A black satin doublet A black jerkin with a lining A Turkish jacket lined with foxes' throat fur, and the collar of the jacket covered with velvet stippled black and red; Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli; black tights.

    Although this was written a quarter of a century before Leonardo's inventory of his own clothes, the mature artist's list contains a peculiar echo of the youthful drawing, which lingers with fascination on the dress of a hanged criminal. Among the clothes Leonardo placed in a chest for safekeeping in he mentions "one cape in French style, which belonged to Duke Valentino; of Salai. Borgia had menaced Florence itself; his men perpetrated atrocities in its countryside. To most Florentine citizens in , his name was diabolical; a diarist called him "this serpent.

    Why else dress Salai in Valentino's old clothes? It is no small thing to be able to list the exact clothes a particular human being wore in everyday life half a millennium ago. The inventory of Leonardo's wardrobe is the next-best thing to possessing the clothes themselves. It is an archaeological fragment that allows us to reconstruct one part of his physical being, to see what he wore as he walked the streets of Florence. In fact his notebooks abound in odd physical details of his life.

    Sometimes there will be a list of groceries, or calculations of household expenses. All such glimpses delight. But the inventory of his clothes is special because it lends startling substance to one of the most amazing, even embarrassing, anecdotes that sixteenth-century gossips told about him. A creamy-white binding, flattened and honed by time, 1 swings open to reveal paper whose yellowed edges and soft textures tell its age.

    It breathes out its four-and-a-half centuries and more when opened, as when an ancient attic is unlocked and the trespasser coughs on dust. The slippery, leathery paper leaves a smell on one's hands — not unpleasant. Each page is printed in thick black type. The title page is designed like a fantastic window, with robed women suDDortine a marble nediment UDon which Dlav little wineed bovs. Through the window, beneath the shield, one can see a walled city in a hilly landscape, dominated by a vast cathedral dome and a formidable fortress. The wondrous artefact we're admiring in the rare-books room of a great library is the very first edition of the sixteenth-century artist Giorgio Vasari's extravagant, gargantuan literary masterpiece, The Lives of the Architects, Painters, and Sculptors.

    One of the most productive crafts in Renaissance Italy was storytelling. Before Spanish and English writers invented the novel, there were Italy's novelle — brief tales, tragic or comic, assembled in generous, expansive collections in a genre whose timeless classic is the fourteenth- century Florentine writer Giovanni Boccaccio's bawdy masterpiece the Decameron. Shakespeare was to get some of his most famous plots from these Italian story collections: Romeo and Juliet and Othello started their lives in Italian books of novelle.

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    It is tempting to wonder what might have happened if, in addition to the tales of Matteo Bandello in which Romeo and Juliet can be found, Shakespeare had known Vasari's tales of murderous rivals and star-crossed lovers. Vasari's book is so rich in narrative that it sometimes seems less a history than a collection of novelle.

    Although it is full of brilliant descriptions of works of art and acute critical observations, and has a serious argument to make about the progress of culture, its facts are mixed with fiction to a riotous degree. Vasari's "Life of Leonardo da Vinci" is his most intoxicated, and intoxicating, parable of genius, a mythic tale whose hero is super-humanly intelligent. Vasari's tone is rhapsodic, the man he evokes magical — "marvellous and celestial," "mirabile e celeste," was this boy born in in the country town of Vinci, in the hills to the west of the great art capital that was Florence.

    One day when he was still a teenager, Vasari tells us, Leonardo was asked by his father, Ser Piero da Vinci, to turn a twisted piece of wood into a shield as a favour for a peasant who worked on the family estates. First Leonardo got the roughly shield-shaped wood smoothed to a convex disc. Then he went out into the countryside to collect the strangest-looking animals he could find: beetles and butterflies, lizards of all shapes and sizes, bats, crickets, and snakes.

    He killed these animals and took them to his private room, where he started to dissect them and select components of their bodies — wing of bat, claw of lizard, belly of snake. Leonardo took no notice of the growing stench as he worked on these dead animals, stitching bits of them together to create a composite monster. He also added something extra, by means Vasari does not explain, for the monster he made "poisoned with its breath and turned the air to fire.

    Finally, he invited his father to see the result. The painting was so realistic that when the door opened on the teenager's darkened room, it looked as if he had some hideous living creature in there that belched fire. Ser Piero was terrified; his son was delighted, for this was the desired effect. Vasari also tells how, after Leonardo completed his apprenticeship in Verrocchio's painting-and-sculpture workshop, the young genius went to Milan to play for its ruler Ludovico Sforza on a grotesque-looking lyre of his own invention.

    Later he relates how Leonardo made a robot lion to greet the king of France that walked forward, then opened to reveal a cargo of lilies; and how sometimes for fun he would inflate a pig's bladder like a balloon, pumping it up until it filled an entire room. One might take these to be tall tales. But Leonardo really did move from Florence to Milan in , working there for Ludovico Sforza until ; he really did make a robot lion; and he wrote in his notebooks about how to create bizarre effects such as an explosion inside a room.

    Leonardo's death offers Vasari a final folkloric image of fame. Having left Italy to end his days as court painter to the French king, the old artist was visited on his deathbed by the monarch in "A paroxysm came to him, the messenger of death; on account of which the King having got up and taken his head in his arms to help him and favour him, in order to ease his pain, his spirit, which was so divine, knowing it was not possible to have a greater honour, expired in the arms of that King, in his seventy-fifth year. It seems that Leonardo had a potent enemy: their rivalry bordered on vendetta: "There was very great disdain [sdegno grandissimo] between Michelangelo Buonarroti and him; because of which Michelangelo departed from Florence for the competition, with the permission of Duke Giuliano, having been called by the Pope for the facade of San Lorenzo.

    Leonardo understanding this departed, and went to France Vasari was not the first writer to tell tales about Leonardo's strained relationship with Michelangelo. Anecdotes about artists were part and parcel of the storytelling culture of Renaissance Italy. This goes back ultimately to the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder, who included anecdotes about famous Greek artists in his Natural History. Boccaccio himself includes a funny story about the painter Giotto in the Decameron.

    One of the earliest accounts of Leonardo was written by the novelist Matteo Bandello, who, having as a novice monk at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan in the s witnessed the painting of The Last Supper, introduces Leonardo as a character in his Novelle and even has him narrate a tale of his own, about the amorous friar and painter Filippo Lippi. Such a feud was bound to fascinate a culture in which ritualised vendetta was practised as readily by artists as by aristocrats.

    The autobiography of the Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini is full of stories about his rivalries, grudges, and brutal acts of revenge. This was a fiercely competitive world and also one obsessed with "honour," with the public image of a man and his family, which must not be sullied by insults or slights. Vasari tells tales in which artists do not merely try to outdo one another but even in one case commit murder out of professional jealousy. The story that the century's two greatest artists loathed each other found a ready audience.

    In the s — that is, before the publication of Vasari's Lives — an anonymous Florentine author compiled a manuscript collection of reminiscences about artists that anticipates his comment on the geniuses' mutual "disdain. They hailed Leonardo, asking him to explain it to them. But he passed on the compliment: It happened that just then Michelangelo passed by and one of them called him over. And Leonardo said: "Michelangelo will explain it to you. He replied angrily: "You explain it yourself, you who designed a horse to be cast in bronze but couldn't cast it and abandoned it in shame.

    Leonardo remained there, his face turning red. A precious clue testifies to the reliability of this tale — a striking, physical clue. It seems that the Anonimo's informant had an excellent visual memory of Leonardo, for his story of the insult at Palazzo Spini is preceded by a precise pen portrait of Michelangelo's victim in what must have been about "[Leonardo] cut a fine figure, well-proportioned, pleasant and good looking. He wore a pink [rosato] cloak In the painter's inventory of the clothes chest he left in the monastery, the predominant colours in his wardrobe are pink and purple.

    The colour terms rosa and rosato recur so often that it's safe to say this was the colour you were most likely to remember Leonardo wearing if you'd seen him around Florence. Among the items he mentioned were: Una gabanella di rosa seca [one dusty-rose-coloured gown] Un catelano rosato [one rose-pink Catalan cloak] Un pa' di calze in rosa seca [one pair of rose-pink hose] Due berette rosate [two rose-pink caps] Leonardo's rosy clothes were memorable — so memorable that an eyewitness accurately recalled their hue forty years later, along with bitter words exchanged between famous men in the street.

    It is not a 1 secondhand bit of information retold years later, but a note from Leonardo's hand that puts him in pink clothes, just as the witness remembered, that day in front of the Palazzo Spini. The Spini is a formidable survivor, an urban castle with crenellated battlements that glower on the swanky shopping street that is today's Via Tornabuoni. At once toweringly Gothic and discreetly elegant, its facade bowed and twisted by the irregularities of the medieval city and perforated by arched windows that glisten with wealth, in the twenty-first century Palazzo Spini is home to an eminent fashion house, its tough stone mass the perfect foil for displays of blue and yellow patent-leather shoes.

    It was outside this building that Michelangelo insulted Leonardo. The triangular space to the north of the Spini is the kind of Italian urban setting, formed naturally in the course of time by a gathering of mighty facades closing off a little piazza, that feels like a purpose-designed theatrical stage. Florence specialises in such superb sets for impromptu street theatre. On a summer night, mopeds are parked here, lovers sit close together on marble ledges.

    The walker southward past the palace soon comes to the river Arno, where, in the summer dark, teenagers perch dangerously above the black waters on the stone pontoons of Ponte Santa Trinita, savouring the eerily beautiful midnight view of the Ponte Vecchio, its freight of ancient craftsmen's workshops glowing in the velvet dark.

    The "Chain Map" of Florence, circa Young men fish in the river Arno and palaces crowd within the walls in this image of the fifteenth-century city, illustration credit 1. The gatherings were all-male. In Italian cities five hundred years ago the only time respectable women were seen in numbers on the street was during their early-morning walk to church. The rest of the time, the drama of civic life was masculine. To taste its flavour, look at Leonardo's fresco The Last Supper.

    All the men here, like the "gathering of gentlemen debating a passage in Dante's poetry" that day in front of the palazzo, are passionate and argumentative. They make their emotions visible through hand gestures. When the great German poet and dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about The Last Supper in the early nineteenth century, he compared the disciples' gestures with the hand signals people still used for emphasis on Italian streets in his day. In his play La Mandragola, a grittily real comedy of city life set in , although first performed in , Niccolo Machiavelli has a character go looking for someone in what would, at that time, have been all the obvious places: "I've been at his house, on the Piazza, the Market, the Spini Works [Pancone delli Spini], the Loggia of the Tornaquinci He also mentions Tornaquinci, a nearby corner where five streets meet, in fact a brief walk further north on Via Tornabuoni.

    One of the most vivid records of everyday life in Renaissance Florence is the diary of Luca Landucci, an apothecary who kept a shop at Tornaquinci. One day in February he came out of his shop to watch a blistering scene. Two convicted murderers were being driven through the streets of Florence on [a] cart, being tormented very cruelly with pincers all through the city; and here at Tornaquinci the stove for heating the pincers broke.

    And not much fire being seen, and with it failing to flame, the officer, threatening the executioner, made him stop the cart, and the executioner got off and went for charcoals to the charcoal-burner, and for fire to Malcinto the baker, and took a pot for the stove, with which he made a great fire.

    The officer yelled constantly: "Make it scorching"; and it was as if all the people wished to do them great harm without pity. And the boys wanted to assassinate the executioner if he didn't torture them well, for which reason they [the condemned men] screamed most terribly. And all this I saw here at Tornaquinci. The style of theatre that took place on the streets of a Renaissance city was bloody and extreme. Without having to leave his own shop, Landucci saw a drama of intense physical suffering, terror, hate: prisoners' flesh being torn from their bodies with hot pincers, an officer roaring at his underling, a mob on the verge of taking the law into its own hands.

    This is not the Florence one sees today, looking down from the hill of San Miniato just outside the city walls. The skyline, to be sure, is remarkably unchanged. All the landmarks that dominate the vista of Florence on a bronze summer evening are the same today as on old maps: the slender pink, white, and green ribbon of Giotto's Campanile; the tall, sloping roof of Santa Croce; the spire of the Badia; the tall watchtower of the fortified Palazzo Vecchio brown and fierce near to the glowing river; and, at the heart of everything, the Cathedral Dome, that white-ribbed terracotta imitation of the vault of heaven itself.

    The city lies there in the warm air like a set of jewels, and it would take an insensitive soul to resist a romantic sigh. But this beauty was always in tension with a gory, visceral, earthy everyday life of conflict, individualism, competition, violence. Today the street life of Florence is genteel and touristy — half a millennium ago it was far more vital. What has vanished is the human past. What we fail to hear as we contemplate the beauty of Florence are the screams of prisoners having their flesh ripped off with hot pincers. The row between Michelangelo and Leonardo that day at the Spini palace was as typical a scene of this world as the spectacle of public torture.

    Giving — and replying to — insults was a Florentine obsession. The entire Sixth Day of Boccaccio's Decameron consists of stories about "those who, tried by some graceful witticism, have roused themselves to make a prompt riposte, escaping loss, danger or scorn. Leonardo shared this admiration for the barbed reply. Indeed, in a part of the Madrid Codex II that dates from the time of his confrontation with Michelangelo he tells his own story about a man who was insulted: "Someone once told off a man of worth for not being legitimate. To which the man replied that he was legitimate according to the conventions of the human species and the laws of nature.

    But that his accuser on the other hand according to nature's laws was a bastard, because he had the habits more of a beast than a man, while by the laws of men he could not be certain of being legitimate There is surely a personal animus in his calling the unnamed accuser the real bastardo, who behaves more like a wild animal than a man. It sounds as if he himself endured the insult and now is replying in fantasy — as if someone was hateful enough to upbraid Leonardo da Vinci for being illegitimate, as in truth he was, for Ser Piero had conceived him out of wedlock while sowing his wild oats with Caterina, a farmer's daughter.

    Once again, Leonardo's recorded thoughts and feelings tantalisingly strengthen the lurid narratives of the first biographers. And his imagined reply is curious. His antagonist has "the habits more of a beast than a man," he rages. Leonardo penned an attack on the characters of sculptors which contains a personal caricature of the most famous one he knew: Between painting and sculpture I find no difference, except that the sculptor undertakes his works with greater strain of body than the painter, and the painter undertakes his works with greater strain of mind, which is proved to be true because the sculptor in making his works does so by force of arm and of percussion to wear away the marble or other stone and uncover the figure enclosed within, which is a most mechanical exercise often accompanied by great sweat, compounded with dust and turning to mud, with a face all pasted and floured with marble dust that makes him look like a baker, and he is covered with tiny fragments, so he seems to have snow on his back, and his house is dirty This text appears in the Codex Urbinas, a manuscript compiled from Leonardo's writings after his death by his pupil and companion Francesco Melzi, so there is every chance that it was written late and refers directly to the person it seems to portray — Michelangelo Buonarroti.

    Sculpture did not always mean chipping away marble to reveal an image — in the Verrocchio workshop where Leonardo trained, bronze and terracotta were used as well as stone — but it is how Michelangelo defined it. There's a suggestive fit between this image of the Michelangelesque sculptor as a dusty mechanical who lives like a pig and the reply of an insulted man that his accuser has bestial habits. The insults are flying thick and fast now.

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    We have put Leonardo outside the Palazzo Spini in his rosy clothes in about , victim of Michelangelo's brutal verbal onslaught. But what did Michelangelo say, exactly, and how did Leonardo respond? He may indeed have said, as the Anonimo claims, "You explain it yourself, you who designed a horse to be cast in bronze but couldn't cast it and abandoned it in shame," or he may have said something still more vicious. He may have called Leonardo a bastard.

    In fact the answer is there in the Anonimo's manuscript, for it seems there was more than one meeting, more than one insult. On another occasion, Michelangelo challenged his enemy this way: "And those capons of Milanese really believed in you? In the Romantic age and after, there was huge demand throughout Europe and America for scenes from Renaissance history.

    The nineteenth-century painter Lord Leighton, in a picture so admired in its day that it was bought by Queen Victoria after a triumphant exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, visualises Vasari's story of how an altarpiece by the medieval master Cimabue was carried aloft through the streets of Florence by a grateful populace. Leighton's imagined medieval Tuscans in their tights and headdresses march before a view of the hill of San Miniato that is meticulously observed from life.

    Just as in such works, by now we have assembled enough details of costume, setting, and character to imagine our own history painting of the meeting in the heart of Florence of the city's two most eminent artists of all time. Leonardo, an immaculately turned-out and handsome man in his early fifties with long hair and pink dandified garments, stands with the crowd of dignified gentlemen in their red and black robes in front of the tall, harsh Spini Palace.

    Michelangelo remains some distance off — a man who has not yet turned thirty, with messy black hair, a lump of a nose. The expression on his face as he utters his biting words may be imagined from the sculptors's youthful self-portrait, in which a fierce boy stands with his right fist clenched at his side it originally held a sword or dagger and a face of concentrated rage. Deep incisions cleave his brow above eyes that glare unforgivingly.

    Moral outrage grips this face; intensity transfigures it. He is a rebel, an avenger, a martyr.

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    Michelangelo carved his self-portrait into a little marble figure of St. Proculus in a church in Bologna in Proculus had been a Roman soldier who took the side of the Christians during their persecution in ancient Bologna: this violent revolutionary hero, this justified killer, had turned his weapon on a Roman official and died for his heroic crime.

    Michelangelo gave the soldier-saint's face furious life — it is hard not to see this as an act of empathy and identification. For proof that it represents the young Michelangelo's formidable self-image, one must look from his face to his feet. Why does the young man have leather boots on? Ancient Romans, as Renaissance artists knew, wore sandals or, in the case of soldiers, open-toed caligae.

    Proculus, however, has these boots of soft hide that enclose his feet cosily. They are made for comfort rather than style; it seems strange that a sculptor would have chosen to give a heroic figure such unflattering footwear. The decision to clad St. Proculus in snug, unaesthetic boots is a provocative act of realism. But what is its meaning? Fifteen years later, in , when Michelangelo was in his mid-thirties, a rival artist portrayed him. Meanwhile, Michelangelo was at work for the same employer in the nearby Sistine Chapel. Raphael wittily included Michelangelo in his mural, brooding massively, leaning his head in his hand while he scribbled poetry on a sheet placed on the stone block beside him.

    His face is cast down in introspection beneath his unkempt black hair. This man is a stern, unyielding, dark presence among the graceful Greeks. He is emotional while they are rational. His powerful knees are naked beneath his short, shapeless purple tunic. On his feet are soft, comfortable, style-less boots.

    When Vasari's Lives was published in , most of the artists whose stories it tells were dead. One whose life is heroically told in its pages was, however, very much alive. Michelangelo's life is the last, and the biggest, in the first edition. It is more than that: it is the book's logical climax, for in Vasari's eyes Michelangelo's works represented the summit of artistic endeavour.

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    Vasari was fascinated by the "celestial" Leonardo but reserved his ultimate praise for Michelangelo. Born in , this Florentine sculptor, painter, architect, and poet was to live an epic life, dying in , just short of his ninetieth year. When Vasari wrote his biography Michelangelo was still in the midst of his works, an old man with a young man's energy. Vasari tells his story as a great adventure — how Michelangelo trained as a boy in the Florentine workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio till he was spotted by the ruler of Florence, "il Magnifico," Lorenzo de' Medici, while trying to carve a faun's head in Lorenzo's sculpture garden.

    How he amazed everyone with his youthful sculptures of Bacchus, the Pieta, and David until Pope Julius II asked him to design his tomb. This led to his painting the Sistine ceiling, a work unrivalled by any artist, living or dead. Michelangelo is simply the greatest artist in history, declares Vasari — he is nothing less than a gift from God. Michelangelo read this and was ambivalent.

    Having sent Vasari a poem praising him for bringing so many dead artists back to life, he got his own pupil Ascanio Condivi to take a break from making paintings based on Michelangelo's drawings in order to write an official life of his master. Condivi's Life of Michelangelo, published in , set out to correct errors in Vasari — and to overturn facts Michelangelo didn't like, such as Vasari's entirely accurate claim that he had been Ghirlandaio's apprentice.

    What makes it fascinating is the sense that Condivi is closely reporting Michelangelo's own opinions and memories. One of the glimpses of his master that Condivi imparts concerns his favoured footwear: "In more robust days, many times has he slept in his clothes and with the ankle boots [stivaletti] on his legs that he has always worn on account of cramp, from which he has suffered constantly, as much as for any other reason.

    Proculus does on the shrine in Bologna. The boy in short, soft boots that Michelangelo carved in is indeed a symbolic, expressive self-portrait that acknowledges his own nature, for which the word "fiery" would be a pathetic understatement. Pope Leo X, who as the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent had known Michelangelo in his youth and apparently didn't wish to have him around too much when he became Pope, said he was "terribile," terrifying and sublime.

    The young man's face in Bologna holds the promise of trouble. One senses he will always find a cause that justifies his fury. It is marvellous, this fury. It is moral, one intuits — it is righteous. He will always see his enemies as moral inferiors. That Michelangelo invested his own anger, his own moral disdain in the figure of St. Proculus is astonishing, and unprecedented in the history of art.

    He is the first creator in history — certainly in the visual arts, surely in all the arts — to comprehensively, insistently break apart the smooth surfaces of craft with the force of personal and autobiographical emotion. His works are part of him in a radical and extreme way — when you look at a Michelangelo you feel the presence of his body working the stone, stretching up to paint the vault. This strange and magnificent conception of his relationship to his work, perfectly encapsulated in the figure of St. Proculus, means that Michelangelo's emotions are still visible today.

    Even something as intangible and interior as his dislike of Leonardo da Vinci has resisted the oblivion of time. The tensions that exploded at the Spini were sparked by competition. It would have been miraculous had the two men liked one another, for in the two greatest artists of the Renaissance became direct rivals. Pull back from the two men standing there yards apart, one turning away in contempt, the other blushing; broaden the view until the old palace of the Spini no longer forms a backdrop to an intense encounter, but is simply a big brown cube surrounded by smaller pink and white boxes, and further back again — until it takes time to identify it among the hundreds of buildings that stuff the city walls of Florence on both sides of the Arno.

    The political centre of this walled city was to the east of the Spini, along narrow, dark streets overshadowed by tall medieval houses. Eventually an alley opened out onto the great space of Piazza della Signoria, the ceremonial public square of Florence, where crowds met to acclaim leaders and threaten trouble. Above its pink tiles with their white grid design growled the government building of the autonomous city-state that was Renaissance Florence. Everyone just called it "the Palace. No matter how many cornices the Strozzi, Rucellai, or Pitti put on their rooftops, their great houses would never be as central to the life of the city as the stronghold of state that soared over the salmon-pink piazza, its slender square watchtower crowned with a bronze lion balancing on a ball.

    Made of rugged, irregular blocks of stone whose sheer quantity becomes a poem of force, on what was a precise rectangular ground plan before it encroached eastward to form a more mystifying shape, the serious defensive intentions of the Palazzo della Signoria were apparent from the fact that it had only the narrowest of barred windows on its lower floor. Its massive walls were perforated by secret passages and hidden escape routes, its upper windows with their elegant arches notorious as the openings from which not a few traitors had been launched to their deaths.

    Donatello, Judith, circa Donatello's fiercely expressive sculpture did not so much emulate as outdo the heroism of ancient Roman public art. Donatello's Judith glowed yellow and reflective on her undulating marble column, raising a curved sword that resembled a Turkish scimitar. Her head was covered in a heavy cloth and her figure wrapped in a long, loose dress — all bronze. Her eyes had no pupils and her face seemed blank and masklike, impassive, as she firmly gripped her victim, the sleeping drunkard Holofernes, by his mass of twisted hair, one long finger of her powerful hand hooked over the locks she pulled back from his forehead.

    Holofernes, his body as passive as if he were already dead, hung from her strong hand, his head twisted grotesquely on his trunk, his arm swinging and his legs dangling off the cushion he rested on as he waited, half-buried in her dress, for her to bring down the blade and decapitate him.

    Donatello's Judith could tell a thing or two about the history of Florence. To the north of Piazza della Signoria, past the cathedral, on Via Larga today's Via Cavour , was the one house that for fifty years had threatened to displace the Palace as the true centre of power in this small but arrogant polity. Now it stood despoiled, its owners in exile.

    Cosimo de' Medici had commissioned his townhouse to a revolutionary design from the architect Michelozzo in the s: behind its deliberately restrained facade — whose precisely shaped stone blocks were smooth to connote civilised wavs on the UDDer storevs. A chapel fit for a king was adorned by Benozzo Gozzoli's pageant-like Procession of the Magi. An Annunciation by Filippo Lippi decorated a doorway. Antonio Pollaiuolo's Hercules raged on the walls and Cosimo's grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent kept Paolo Uccello's Battle of San Romano in his bedroom — among the other treasures of this private house that outdid for taste and probably for comfort the residence of any monarch of the day.

    In its courtyard stood Donatello's statue of Judith, together with his bronze David. Both bore patriotic inscriptions identifying the Medici with the cause of Florentine freedom. The wealth of the Medici came from banking; their fortune was made when they won the Pope's account. Cosimo il Vecchio translated money into influence to make himself, by , the effective ruler of a city that nevertheless still considered itself a republic. The triumph of the Medici was a crafty political achievement. Alliances and loyalties were nurtured, largesse distributed, ballots rigged — and enemies who couldn't be bought ruthlessly crushed.

    Part of the game was to flatter republican illusions. Florence had grown from not much to become a great city in the thirteenth century. In Northern Europe at this time strong monarchies were unifying what would eventually become nations, but Italy lacked central authority. The Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire fought for dominance, but neither ever achieved it, instead dividing cities into pro-Papal Guelf and pro-Imperial Ghibelline factions, adding to the bloody lottery that was medieval urban life. Guelf or Ghibelline, the one constant in Italy's political and social history was the city.

    The Mediterranean world has a propensity for cities that can be traced back into prehistory. Italy's can be small or large, but they are never provincial, because each sees itself as a little world apart, even today, with all the cultural confidence and communal self-respect that implies. In the Middle Ages, cities created their own governments and their own little empires.

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    Tuscany threw up a particularly dazzling constellation of neighbouring city-states: Pisa, Siena, Lucca, San Gimignano, Arezzo — and Florence. In paintings of the landscape of Tuscany, these warring communities were portrayed as fortified enclosures crowded with houses and towers on rival, rounded hilltops.

    The most seductive of all medieval visions of city life is a wall painting in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.

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    Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good Government depicts Siena as a colourful cluster of pink houses and soaring towers inside walls dividing it from its surrounding countryside, its contado, where peasants happily toil to provide it with everything it needs. On the city streets people are so happy they dance in a circle in front of shops laden with food. This is all the result of good government, and the best government, medieval Italians tended to believe, was a republic.

    In a republic all citizens had a say in the running of the state and all in principle might be called to hold office. In Florence, to be a political citizen a man had to be over thirty, and have at least one ancestor who had held office. But there were so many offices, all with comparatively brief terms of appointment, that most families who'd been settled long in the city were led by men who were cittadini.

    The antithesis of republican "liberty" was tyranny, the rule of one individual. In most Italian city-states in the course of the Middle Ages, tyrants took over. Wealthy families were happy to have a despot secure their property. By the early s Florence was almost alone in maintaining its republican freedom, fighting a bitter war against the Visconti, despotic rulers of Milan, to defend it. Cosimo de' Medici and his successors emerged as de facto hereditary rulers of Florence without appearing to end its republican tradition because the Palazzo della Signoria remained the seat of government, separated from their house, and because they supported and shared the rhetoric of republicanism.

    Judith stood witness to this: she had originally done her killing in the courtyard of the Medici house above fierce inscriptions, put up by the potent family, hoping that "citizens There were difficult moments, but for most of the fifteenth century their hegemony was complete. Then it crumbled overnight. Judith saw it, felt it. When the Medici fell in she was physically dragged from the Medici courtyard and placed outside Palazzo della Signoria, a symbol of revolution. When Lorenzo de' Medici died, still only in his forties, in , he was succeeded as capo of Florence by his son Piero.

    Unfortunately Piero lacked finesse, intelligence, and cunning. In the king of France invaded Italy, crossing the Alps with an army equipped with cannons. The French cannons were invincible. One Italian city after another fell as the French headed southward to contest the crown of Naples. As they entered Tuscany the hapless Piero rode out from Florence to cut a deal, without consulting the Palace.

    His attempt at flamboyant diplomacy had the disastrous result of surrendering important fortresses and allowing the French to give Pisa its freedom from Florentine rule. Returning home, Piero found the bells of the Palace ringing to call the people to arms against him. He and his brothers fled. Suddenly the Republic actually was a republic. This painter was a follower of Savonarola and has portrayed him heroically, illustration credit 2.

    Some patricians wanted this republic to be carefully managed with methods like those the Medici had used. Others argued for broadening the government. The most influential voice turned out to be that of a prophet who got his political advice direct from God. For years now in his sermons in the Cathedral, the terrifying preacher Girolamo Savonarola had denounced tyrants and the abuse of wealth.

    Rich, tyrannical Lorenzo nonetheless promoted him to be prior of the city's Dominican monastery, San Marco. Savonarola's sermons were more than merely fiery; he claimed he was able to speak directly with God, who informed him of future events. The French invasion in seemed to vindicate Savonarola's prophecies. He'd spoken of a "great scourge" coming into Italy — and here it was. He'd spoken of a sword, and here it was. Savonarola's audiences now accepted him not just as an eloquent man of God but as an authentic prophet.

    This gave him extraordinary power. As the city's political elite debated what to do after expelling the Medici, he spoke for God — and for the People, the Popolo, who loved him. He said he agreed with those who argued for establishing a Great Council, an assembly of all citizens. There was such a thing in Venice, and the divinely harmonious Venetian constitution seemed good to him. The Great Council was born.

    It was not really like its Venetian equivalent, because Venice was jan aristocratic society with a rigorously limited citizen body. In Florence, shopkeepers and craftsmen suddenly found themselves entitled to approve taxes and elect officials alongside wealthier citizens in the Great Council. Revolutions eat their children — this one burned its father.

    Savonarola's preaching became too divisive, and by not everyone believed he was a true prophet. He kept denouncing Pope Alexander VI, repeating terrible rumours about the Borgia family from the pulpit, all but calling the Pope an Antichrist. His followers, scathingly nicknamed by their enemies Piagnoni — Weepers, Cry-babies — went around in pious adolescent fraternities burning "vanities.

    Cynical anti-Savonarolan factions arose. With the Pope threatening reprisals and the republic breaking apart, the Signoria ordered the monastery of San Marco to be attacked. After a brief, riotous siege Savonarola was arrested and brought to the Palace, where he was tortured until he confessed that he was not a genuine prophet. He and his two closest lieutenants were then taken out onto a wooden platform erected on Piazza della Signoria, shriven by priests who'd come specially from Rome, and led along a pier that jutted at an angle from the northwest corner of the Palace to a scaffold towering above the tightly policed crowds.

    The three men were hanged until they were dead and then a great fire was lit beneath them. It was kept blazing until their charred skeletons fell from the scaffold, and still longer, until there was nothing left but ashes. The ashes were carefully collected and taken to the Ponte Vecchio, where they were scattered into the Arno to prevent anyone retrieving relics. Even so, some people waded weeping into the river to try and skim the black dust off its surface. The French invasion of turned out not to be a passing storm but one of those events that define an age.

    Great changes followed. One fatal consequence for Florence was the rebellion of its subject city Pisa near the mouth of the Arno. Pisa proved agonisingly difficult to reconquer, and by Florence had been at war with its Tuscan neighbour for a decade. This was just one of the wars of Italy.

    By the time the entire cycle of conflicts ended, the very idea of the city republic would lie in ruins. Florence at the beginning of the sixteenth century was a republic bereft. It had driven out the Medici and executed Savonarola. With the former it extinguished a glamorous court, with the latter a countervailing force of religious charisma.

    Its moderate new government faced a timeless dilemma: how to make the middle course exciting. Keeping the Republic free from a return to Medici rule yet also safe from the tyranny of religious fanaticism was a tricky course. How to give compromise a glorious face? That was the problem confronting Piero Soderini, the Republic's new head official, and his counsellor Niccolo Machiavelli. The defence of liberty is not what the name Machiavelli suggests. For five centuries it has been synonymous with political ruthlessness and skulduggery; in Italy the heirs of Machiavelli might appear to have been Mussolini and the Mafia, and all over the world, to this day, he lends his name to cynical and manipulative behaviour.