Michelangelo and the most sublime declarations of gay love in art

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04/29/2024

Tommaso de’ Cavalieri was the light of the age, unique in the world – at least in the eyes of the man who loved him. That ardent lover was Michelangelo, who described Cavalieri in these glowing words in a letter from 1532. If only a portrait of Tommaso survived we could have seen his face, which the fiftysomething artist claimed in a poem was so beautiful it gave him a glimpse of paradise itself. Michelangelo did not just announce his love for this young upper-class citizen of Rome – who knew the pope and prominent cardinals socially – in verse and prose. He also gave Cavalieri some of the greatest drawings ever created. Up until this time, the mighty sculptor, painter and architect had used drawing as a tool to develop ideas: but the so-called “Presentation Drawings” he did for Tommaso aspire to be completed works of art. They star in the British Museum’s new exhibition of Michelangelo’s later graphic works, and demand a close look, for these are perhaps the most sublime declarations of gay love in art.

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