Written by – FILIPPO VILLANI

Translated by – GIULIA CUCARI

 

Despite its several definitions, we ought to agree with the fact that Art is a way of establishing the truth through its variations, though not always transparently. In fact, Art empowersthe man to reflect on his existence:out of the chaotic, daily rush, it allows us to notice both the essence of the world and its miscellaneous flaws.

This proper “playground” may contain some contrasting elements, whose list could never end; anyway, the point is that everything is linked to a main indivisible duality that is the one between Man and Being. At a maximum range of abstraction, all the possible subjects end here;and as you know, dear reader, Art History has seen the creation of artworks concerning every kind of topic, despite the lack of proportion.

Sadly, some matters that used to be dealt with during specific eras got unmentionable due to social conventions: one of them is homosexual love.

In fact, the reaction to the representation of its expression has never been the same over the centuries: either it was praised for being Art at its finest or claimed to be vulgar pornography.

Following a chronological order, we can detect the first examples of homoerotic artworks during Ancient Greece, whose social and cultural context gave space to sexual representations and highlighted its carnal side.

According to the essentially chauvinist ethical code of that time,a man could fulfill his masculinity by having intercourses with other males, always bearing in mind social hierarchies–strongly linked to education– and all the possible postures during the sexual act. Vase painting was widely used in order to represent this link between eroticism and its social significance: depictions had to resemblethe so-called heroic nudes, which had to symbolize the strong and warlike community of that time.

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Thanks to the Hellenization, the Roman environment inherited some Greek features: sexual orientation and gender identity were not considered, since the only dichotomy taken into account merely involved being active (“top”) or passive (“bottom”) as a partner. The resulting artistic style resembled the classic and Hellenic tradition, but its ethnic and historical context shows some differences: vase painting was replaced by parietal painting and the subject switched from heroic nudity to mixed orgies.

The only example of homoerotic artwork of this period is the so-called “Warren Cup”, from the name of the American writer and collector who purchased it in Rome in 1911. It is a silver cup dated back to 1a.C. whose low relief shows two pederastic intercourses in which the adult male is active (“erastes”, the lover) and the young boy is passive (“eromenos”, the beloved). Drapes, instruments and detailed elements compose its background.

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Unfortunately, homosexual love was progressively censored during the Roman Empire due to the institutionalization of Christianity, being definitely banned during the Middle Age because of the repressing motions of the new dominant religion in Europe.

Humanism and Renaissance – during which the government choices set off against the Papal authority – brought back classicism and the beauty of nudity, although the erotic depictions were ideal rather than carnal. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose sexuality had people buzzing, highlighted male nudity through sensual and sublime forms (the latter extended this feature to female characters, with an implicitly homoerotic mark).

The Council of Trent and its Counter-Reformation established a new wave of censorship and modesty toward complete nudity in Art, which had genitalia covered through depictions of leaves; this phase of artistic oblivion covered the entire period of Baroque and Rococo.

The advent of French Revolution put a stopper in this repressive attitude thanks to its neoclassic artists, who were inspired by the Greek and Roman contextand aimed to depose Christianity as a symbol of medieval feudalism.The reestablished heroic nudity is widely showed in the “Revolt at Cairo” by Anne-Louis Girodet (1810), where an Egyptian guard is protecting his dying sovereign from French occupiers through a (nearly) sensual hug.

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As far as feminine nudity is concerned, it is only with the advent of Romanticism and the end of the Napoleonic Age that itfirst came forward,while male heroic nudity was gradually discarded.

The Second Industrial Revolution and the reinforcement of middle-class regime, along with the economic and social changes, brought to a reshape of the artist, who stopped relying on nobles and single-handedly started managing his activity on the market.

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” (“The Luncheon on the Grass”) by Edouard Manet marks the beginning of Modern Art: it is the first artwork in which a female nude does not apply to a mythological context – which shocked the critics of that time, who also had doubts about the use of perspective in the painting.

Realist Gustave Courbet and Post-Impressionist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec are other examples of rebelling artworks against the widely spread prudery: the former painted “Le Sommeil” (“The Sleep”, 1866), in which two naked women are lying asleep on a bed, resting after a sexual intercourse, while the latter created “Le Basier”, where two lesbian prostitutes are kissing in bed.

Homosexual love is now depicted without any filter, as we can see at the beginning of the XX century with magic realism and its artists who portray “uncensored” male nudes (e.g. Paul Cadmus and Jared French). The progress made by the Gay Liberation Movement and the subsequent political and social evolutions during the ‘60s and ‘70s resulted in further boosts of homosexual eroticism’s free expression through various artistic ways.

As far as Visual Arts are concerned, we can trace consistent developments in the photography field thanks to artists such as Bruce Weber, who became popular (also) for his advertising billboards, and Robert Mapplethorpe, widely known for his daring and provocative style.

Instead, Figurative Arts do not show any remarkable depictions apart from contemporary artists like pop cartoonist Robert de Michiell, with his caricatures of straight and gay couples, and Italian painter Claudio Bindella, who portrays homosexual eroticism in order to claim its civil rights.

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Immagine finale

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This is why, at the beginning of this article, we said that Art empowers the man to reflect on his existence and the world that surrounds him, for the History of homoerotic portrayal has always juxtaposed with the Homosexual one.

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