Myths of Male Same-Sex Love in the Art of the Italian Renaissance

Ann Haughton

Keywords

Italian Renaissance art; art history; Apollo and Hyacinth; Apollo and Cyparissus; pederasty; sexuality
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Abstract

Visual culture has much to contribute to an understanding of the history of sexuality. Yet, to date, the depiction of pederasty in the art of the Renaissance has not been covered adequately by dominant theoretical paradigms. Moreover, the interpretive approach of traditional art historical discourse has been both limited and limiting in its timidity toward matters concerning the representation of sexual proclivity between males. This article will address the ways in which Italian Renaissance artistic depictions of some mythological narratives were enmeshed with the period’s attitudes toward sexual and social relationships between men.

Particular attention is paid here to the manner in which, under the veneer of a mythological narrative, certain works of art embodied a complex set of messages that encoded issues of masculine behaviour and performance in the context of intergenerational same-sex erotic relationships.  The primary case studies under investigation for these concerns of gender and sexuality in this particular context are Benvenuto Cellini’s marble Apollo and Hyacinth (1545), and Giulio Romano’s drawing of Apollo and Cyparissus (1524). By incorporating pictorial analysis, social history, and gender and sexuality studies, new possibilities will be offered for evaluating these artworks as visual chronicles of particular sexual and cultural mores of the period. Furthermore, this article will consider how visual representation of these mythic narratives of erotic behaviour between males conformed to the culturally defined sexual and social roles relating to the articulation of power that permeated one of the greatest milestones in art history.

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