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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Same Sex Art

St. Francis in Ecstasy, 1596, Caravaggio
Inasmuch as same sex marriage seems to be a hot topic at the moment, I've decided to delve into what I call "same sex art." In doing so, I'll not get into speculating as to whether various individual artists down through history were or were not gay. Such evidence is usually circumstantial, anecdotal, and uncertain, at best. Likewise, through the clouds of the centuries, it's largely inconsequential. And before you start covering your eyes or salivating, I'm not into displaying contemporary art dealing with this subject either. Such work runs the gamut from gay to gag (and I don't mean funny). In any case, we stand too close to it historically to judge it fairly.

Shah Abbas and Wine Boy,
1627, Muhammad Qassin
Homosexuality has always had a constant presence in the art of virtually every culture and every art era. Likewise, a surprising number of important painters and sculptors have dealt with the topic, sometimes quite subtly, sometimes not. Ancient Kama Sutra illustrations from India are often quite graphic. The Persians (left) were more subtle. Chinese, Japanese, even native Americans cultures all have gay art. The love relationships between two men or two women is rife in classical mythology. The Greeks seem to dote on it, in fact. The Romans were more straight-laced, seeming to have an "under the counter" fascination with the subject. In medieval times, the Knights Templar have been depicted in thinly veiled gayety.

Departing of David and Jonathan, 1642
Rembrandt van Rijn
During the Renaissance, artists searched for and found biblical scenes to depict, usually of David and Jonathan, such as Rembrandt's touching, David Departing Jonathan (right). Caravaggio could well be in a class of his own, given his fondness for painting pretty boys such as his nude Cupid (1601), also his Ecstasy of St. Francis (top, 1596). During the Classical era in French art history, painters fell back on sanitized versions of Greek mythology as an opportunity to explore multiple nude (usually) male figures. Gerome's The Snake Charmer (below) and Jean Broc's The Death of Hyacinth (below, left) come to mind. In England, William Blake chose Apollo as his doorway to such art.

The Snake Charmer, 1870, Jean-Leone Gerome
The Death of Hyacinth, 1801,
Jean Broc
In sculpture, the Greeks devoted inordinate attention to man-to-man art, usually Apollo or Hercules, but also including Narcissus as well as Pan and Daphnis (below, left). Francois Rude, in his high relief sculpture La Marseillaise (below, right, 1833) on the side of the Arc du Triomphe depicted a male comradery having homosexual overtones. Picasso chose female same-sex images numerous times in his work, such as Women Running on the Beach (bottom, 1927) and Girls before a Mirror.

La Marseillaise, 1833,
Francois Rude

Pan Teaching Daphnis,
100 BC
Girls Running on the Beach, 1922, Pablo Picasso

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