Thursday, July 02, 2015

Gay tours of Vatican art reveal hidden history

Gay history hidden in Vatican religious art can now be seen firsthand through new LGBT-friendly tours never offered before.

In a sign of the Vatican’s increasing acceptance of queer people, Italian travel company Quiiky has begun leading two gay-oriented day tours based on the lives, loves and masterpieces of Renaissance artists Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Same-sex kisses in the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s love for a young male poet are the focus of Quiiky's queer tour of Rome. Moving north to Milan, the LGBT Da Vinci tour reveals how the artist’s own beloved male disciple Salai was probably the model for Christ’s apostle John in the Last Supper.

The most popular part of the tour comes in the Sistine Chapel when guides point to the top right corner of “Last Judgment,” just behind Saint Peter. Michelangelo painted three pairs of male figures kissing and embracing to celebrate their ascent to heaven.
Detail from “Last Judgement” by Michelangelo

“Our customers like the Sistine Chapel painting of a kiss between two men going to Paradise, not in Hell,” Quiiky CEO Alessio Virgili told the Jesus in Love Blog.

Using slang and simple language, Quiiky guides point out details that other guides ignore -- details related to the homosexuality of the artists. The tours were conceived especially, but not exclusively, for an LGBT audience.

“This gay tour gives finally the right importance homosexuality had in the Renaissance period and in the Italian art itself, a role that has been hidden until now because of the bigotry of certain environments,” the website states.

Plans are underway to add two more gay excursions: a Caravaggio tour of Baroque Rome and a tour of Tivoli highlighting ancient Roman emperor Hadrian and his male lover Antinous.

“There is an untold history that some gays know, but I think it is time for everybody to find out,” Virgili said in an interview with Jesus in Love. “When I traveled abroad I always used to meet LGBT people who told me that they liked visiting Italy to look for history, especially places and art made by gay men and lesbians.” So he launched the gay tours.

The Quiiky Vatican Museum tour begins with ancient statues, such as Hadrian and his beloved Antinous, and concludes with a visit to the Gallery of Tapestries and St. Peter’s Basilica. But the highlight is the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings were controversial even in his own time because they include many sensous male nudes who are modeled on manual laborers. The models were probably men whom Michelangelo saw at gay bathhouses and brothels, according to historian Elena Lazzarini of Pisa University. Michelangelo's homoerotic interests are evident not only in his paintings, but also in the hundreds of love poems that he wrote during his lifetime.

"John the Baptist" by Da Vinci
The Da Vinci tour visits different sites in Milan linked to the artistic genius, including the Biblioteca Ambrosiana library where his work is preserved and the Sforza Castle where he painted on commission for a noble family.

The centerpiece of the tour is viewing “The Last Supper” in the convent refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie. Next to Christ is his beloved disciple John, who resembles Da Vinci’s apprentice Gian Giacomo Caprotti. Nicknamed Salai (“little devil”), he was also Da Vinci’s frequent model and most likely lover.  Salai is also presumed to be the model for a painting of an almost coquettish John the Baptist by Da Vinci.

Historical documents show that Da Vinci was accused of sodomy as a young man. The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, but speculation has continued for centuries as viewers perceived proof in his artwork.

Quiiky’s gay tours have been popular since their inception in November 2014. Every day about 15 people take the gay tours, which are designed for an intimate, small-group experience. About 70 percent of customers come from the United States, followed by England and Spain.

Vatican officials are aware of the gay tours, but have done nothing to stop them. “It is not a secret that Quiiky is a LGBT tour operator open to everybody, and we have access to Vatican Museum with official guides. This is, I think, because Vatican wants to open its doors to everybody, with no difference,” Virgili explained.

Pope Francis set a new tone in 2013 when he told reporters that his attitude about LGBT people is: “Who am I to judge?”

Virgili said that nonjudgmental attitude extends to the gay tours that he offers: “And so the Vatican doesn’t judge if you are looking for your personal identity and history in a place created to embrace the whole human being.”

Related links:
Vatican Art in a Gay Light (New York Times)

“The Last Judgement” and the Homoerotic Spirituality of Michelangelo (Queer Spirituality)

Michelangelo's 'The Last Judgement' was 'inspired by visiting gay saunas' (Daily Mail)

The Secret Gay Vatican Tour (Pride Travel)

The Passions of Michelangelo by Rictor Norton

Special thanks to Marco Wooster for the news tip.
This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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