A Love Letter from Michelangelo

When Michelangelo was in his late fifties he fell in love with a beautiful young noble in his early twenties named Tommaso de’ Cavalieri. He sent Tommaso drawings and dedicated passionate poems to him, more  than three hundred sonnets and madrigals.  With ups and downs their relationship lasted the rest of Michelangelo’s life; and when Michelangelo died years later, Tommaso was at his bedside.

Once, not long after they met, Tommaso wrote to Michelangelo to ask why he had not written for so long: could it be that Michelangelo had forgotten him? Michelangelo replied that he thought he had convinced Tommaso of his “boundless love”:

“……Perhaps you [said] this to try me or to rekindle a greater flame in me, if it were possible. Whichever it is, I know for sure that I’ll forget your name the day I forget the food I live on; in fact, I could sooner forget my food, which…. nourishes only the body, than your name, which nourishes body and soul, and fills both with such sweetness that I can feel no pain nor fear of death while my mind remembers it. Imagine how happy I would be if my eye also had its share.” [unsigned]

Florence, 28 July, 1533

This entry was posted in art, art history, drawing, great artists, Michelangelo. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A Love Letter from Michelangelo

  1. Ion Danu says:

    It was mainly this relationship which, for some enemies like Aretino, proved the homosexual penchant of Michelangelo… Before reading Romain Rolland biography (1908) I was incline to doubt myself… But after reading it, Rolland convinced me of the platonic nature of their relationship, Michelangelo loving in Tomasso his great physical beauty but also his character… As unlike this seem there was nothing physical or impure in this…

  2. 100swallows says:

    Danu—Why do you read somebody on somebody on somebody? The sources are Vasari’s and Condivi’s Lives of Michelangelo, his letters and poems, and his paintings and statues. It’s true there are a few facts the scholars have found out since and those are in good footnotes to the Lives and to E.H. Ramsden’s Complete Letters. That’s all anybody has to get his picture of the man.
    Old Aretino was a blackmailer and an SOB that everybody was afraid of in his time. You can’t believe him. His innuendo’s about Mike’s “generosity” to the boys always struck me as plain envy. He wanted Michelangelo to give HIM those drawings! Don’t doubt that Michelangelo was “gay”–he was. His two biographers—neither of which strike one as gay themselves—try to cover up for him in their books. The story about him lying down with the boys, like Socrates, and never doing anything “impure” comes from Condivi. Condivi seems naïve.
    Only he and Tommaso know what went on between them, but read the poems dedicated to Tommaso!
    More on all this in an upcoming post, OK?

    • Perfect response. We (still) seem so reticent to accept even the possibility that famous artists of the past could possibly be gay. Obviously there’s a great tradition of this in classical Greece, the source for the inspiration of the entire Renaissance. We won’t know for sure, but the sonnets don’t read like platonic expressions of love.

  3. Aryul says:

    I don’t think he was gay. I think Michelangelo was deeply religious, asexual, and just happened to have a fascination for the male figure. Oh well, no one knows for sure now.

  4. 100swallows says:

    You could be right, Aryul. But it’s not just his fascination with the male nude. So much else about him points one way. Of course that doesn’t mean he went out cruising after dark.

  5. FullMetalAlchemist says:

    Ion Danu –

    What U call “loving his great physical beauty and also his character” is just another phraseologism for “lust”. There is no such thing like “platonic love” or “pure relationship”- these phrases have been invented by homophobic historians who tried to justify gay love affairs among great artists. Michelangelo WAS actually gay or bisexual and this letter is just one of many pieces of evidence. If U cannot accept it just get ovet it.

    • 100swallows says:

      It’s not as easy as that, don’t be so hard on Danu, who is no homophobe. Michelangelo’s biographer and young friend Condivi is the one who speaks of his “purity” à la Socrates. You may think Condivi is lying or naive but he knew and worked with Michelangelo for years and you didn’t. Platonic love certainly does exist–not all relationships, homosexual or heterosexual, are the result of “lust”.

  6. FullMetalAlchemist says:

    “not all relationships, homosexual or heterosexual, are the result of “lust”.”
    Lust is what makes the difference between the so called “man to woman” or call it as U wish kind of relationship and any other. If there is no physical gravity or any apetite for sex it is just friendship, nothing more. We ppl “are nothing but mammals, and do it just like they do on Discovery chanel”

  7. robthomaseyes says:

    do the men on this board write letters or speak like that to their friends, unless they are in love – sexual love – with them? I seriously doubt it. And if a friend of yours wrote of how your physical beauty fed his body and soul or whatever, you would NOT think to yourself, ah, a pure, platonic relationship, how nice. Please, get a clue. You are pretending to think these letters were of a platonic nature because you are afraid to think that one of the world’s greatest artists was a gay man. Well, too bad. Sometimes a cigar IS a cigar! (yes, I know…I meant that to be a phallic line!)

  8. L. Eddy says:

    I am interested to know the nationality and cultural background of these that write of the sexuality of men centuries dead. I am sure that if you wrote such about the relationships between men in cultures where kissing and embracing is a norm, they would see you for what you are…men justifying their own behaviour by projecting their own views on the culture that is different than their own.

    One finds much the same in the world of zoology. Studies are flawed where researchers anthropomorphize animals by projecting human desires and motivations on to them. Their bias based on looking at the world thru their own glasses and not being objective scientists and researchers distorts their ability to do good science. Any one remember the Grizzly Guy? thought that he had “relationships” and “trust” with bears, then he got mauled to death.

    Not that I consider more physically affectionate societies less evolved, I just believe that a lack of objectivity exists in the assumption of a particular historical figure’s sexual proclivity by those with that proclivity.

  9. Pingback: Was Tommaso de’Cavalieri Michelangelo’s lover? – ART 391 Michelangelo in Rome and Florence

Leave a Reply