The Origins of Gay Art

The word “Gay” it is associated to homosexuality, however it can be used to refer to LGBTQ people. Being homosexual it means being attracted sexually, physically or emotionally to a person of same sex or animal. Studies refer being homosexual is quite normal in daily societies, with an average of 2-13% in general population, but 20% if we consider the many people that didn’t come out yet.

Ain Sakhri Lovers, 9000 BCE.
British Museum

Homossexuality can be found in more than 5000 species like mammals, birds and worms.

Art it is a concept of mental ideas made by human creation, in visual, sound and performance. We can consider art music, theatre, dance, sculpture, cinema, among others. In this article we will explore the visual art gay.

There are many evidences of same sex relations between men in art for more than 11,000 years. I will begin this travel in “Gay Art” starting on 11,000 before Christ, and end in the end of XVII Baroque. I will show art and artists that you probably did not know, and others you probably already know very well. Let´s explore homoerotic and see their secrets.

The oldest evidence of homossexuality in art it can be found in London, and it is the Ain Sakhri sculpture from Bethlehe (Belém), Palestine.

10,000 BCE in Mount Pellegrino in Palermo, Sicily, Southern Italy

Another evidence it is the case of the cave Addaura on Monte Pellegrino, in Palermo, Sicília, Itália. 10,000 before Christ.

Berdache Dance “Two Spirits”. George Catlin (1796–1872). Smithsonian Institution.

This cave shows murals of two men painted in a sexual position where the penis are together in a joy and celebrated ceremony of shamanism.

Homosexuals and trans people were also very common in civilizations like Aztecs (1325 – 1521), Maias (2 000 a.C. – 1697), Quechuas, Moches (100 a.C. – 800), Zapotecs and Tupinambá. The Berdaches were the proof of transgender people in this continent and it was considerered quite normal.

2400 BC, Khnumhotep, Niankhkhnum. Egipt

In 2004 before Christ in Saqarra, in Egipt, the gay relations were also very comon. The image with kiss bewtween two men is celebrated, as a wedding, in the mural of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep.

In ancient Greece (1 100 a.C. – 146 a.C. ) pederasty (the name for same sex relations in that time – homossexuaity)was very trendy and used as a pedagogy to young male. Plato also says that it is the aceptation of democracy the homossexuality.

The Banquet, also known as the Symposium, it is a Platonic dialogue written around 380 BC. Aristophanes provides an explanation for female and male homosexual love, as well as male (third) male love, which was called androgen, masculine (android). ) as female (gyne). Love for Aristophanes is therefore the desire and search for the lost half.

Plato’s Symposium , Anselm Feuerbach (1873), Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlim

At the beginning of Ancient Rome from 509 BC – 27 BC, homosexual relations between free men were punished even to death by The Escantinian Law.

But the truth is that it was legal to have sex between the slave and its owner. Even later Emperor Nero married a man.

With the arrival of Christianity to power, any expression of homosexual love became taboo and its practice prohibited. In mid-380 Theodosius I proclaimed a law permanently prohibiting all same-sex sexual relations, punishing death.

St ambrose barring theodosius from milan cathedral, 1619, Anthony van Dyck. National Gallery London

The Thessalonica massacre in 388 in Greece was proof that even in the Christian era homosexuality was still accepted by the majority of the population, even though officially persecuted. This massacre it was originated in the accusation of sexual harassment of an emperor’s officer, because he was arrested. The people disliked and demanded their release, demonstrating that homosexuality was not seen as a crime in this part of the empire. One work that portrays this massacre very well is that of Anthony van Dyck, where the Church begins to have a huge influence on people’s sex lives.

Interestingly, homosexuality in China, known as the pleasures of chopped peach, sliced ​​mango, or Southern ritual, has been reported since the Shang Dynasty (1600 BCE).

Also in the Arab world, some scholars claim that there are examples of homosexual love in ancient literature, such as in the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic as well as in the biblical story of David and Jonah. In the Gilgamesh Epic, the relationship between the protagonist Gilgamesh and the character Enkidu was seen by some as homosexual in nature.

Shah Abbas I with a Page, 1627 in the Persian Empire (Now Iran), The Louvre in Paris France in Islamic Art: The Modern Empires (1500–1800)

The work where Shah Abbas I of Persia meets relates the homosexual relationship with a boy while drinking wine. In the Islamic world this relationship was seen as very positive. A gift.

The Manu Code, the fundamental work of Hindu law, mentions a “third sex” whose members may engage in nontraditional gender expressions and homosexual activities.

With the Renaissance, wealthy cities in northern Italy, in particular Florence and Venice, were known for their widespread practice of same-sex love, practiced by a considerable part of the male population and built on the classical aesthetic standard of Greece and Rome. Here the Church did not play such a punishing role as in other countries.

Albrecht Dürer is a very interesting example of how he explored these relationships between men through drawing. The bathroom is a proof of a homoerotic environment where naked men drink wine, listen to music and talk. The source that replaces the penis is synonymous with pleasure and ejaculation. Something comical.

Donatello was an artist well known for his assumed homosexuality in Florence. His studio was a real homosexual hangout.

Leonardo da Vinci is also seen by many as homosexual, although this theory is not yet consensual. It is known that he had a very close relationship with his apprentice Salai. But the work “David’s Study” reveals an admiration for the body of man. Another evidence is his works with adrogenous personages.

‘David’ by Michelangelo ,1501-1504. Galleria dell’Accademia (Florence)

As well as throughout Michelangelo’s work it is possible to see the enormous interest in the body of man and the Neoplatonism. Also, there are love letters with Tommaso de’ Cavalier.

16th and 17th century Mannerism and Baroque artists such as Agnolo Bronzino, Carlo Saraceni and Caravaggio were considered supporters of homoerotism.

All of these artists and works of art influenced the following generations of modern and contemporary artists. In most cases in a fight against prejudice, which to this day. And there seems no end…

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Francisco Lacerda

Francisco Lacerda

Francisco Lacerda is a Queer culture critic and creative director of Pois. He writes for Pois since 2018.

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