“Loving Strokes” by James Fenton, in Times Literary Supplement, April 9, 2010.
Art historians have long speculated whether a set of drawings Michelangelo Buonarroti made for his friend and patron Tommaso de’Cavalieri in 1532 reveal a not-so-secret love. In one of the drawings, “Ganymede,” an eagle’s talons grip a young man around the shins as it bears him aloft. “To many,” James Fenton writes, “this looks like buggery—buggery, to be sure, of an exceedingly unusual kind . . . but buggery nevertheless.” Also fueling the gossip are a number of passionate love sonnets the artist wrote to the young nobleman. “The artist protests a chaste love,” Fenton says, “but he does so with a passion that, for a modern sensibility, can only with difficulty be conceived as chaste.” At the time Michelangelo presented the drawings, he would have been 57; Tommaso may have been as young as 12, though he was more likely at least in his teens.
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