Portrait of Bindo Altoviti, Raphael, 1512-1514
Everybody loved Raphael. When I say everybody, I mean everybody. Women, men, young, old… they all loved him, and he loved them all. He had quite the reputation. While it’s no secret that most of the Renaissance masters were gay, bisexual, whatever they called whatever they were in the 16th century, (I hate labels but its hard to write a blog post without them!) what it seems few people look at is their art in terms of their sexuality.
Take this portrait. For years, people thought it was a self portrait. Understandably so, because this Bindo guy looks quite a bit like Raphael. I did a quick Google search about this portrait, because I knew nothing about it. At first, I too thought it was a self portrait. In fact, I had the feeling it was a type of ad - the guy is good looking! I figured, oh, here’s Raphael, showing everybody how handsome he is, making sure everybody knows that everybody loves him. My theory was immediately discounted when I realized it was a portrait. After this realization, I was convinced Bindo was one of Raphael’s lovers. Again, I point out his good looks as my reasoning, and my knowledge of Raphael’s sexual endeavors. However, once again, my theory was discounted. Of course, all of this is based on two minutes of Google searches, but apparently Bindo and his wife were wicked in love, and this portrait was so that she could always see him when he was away. There’s this whole theory about love being in the eyes - and Bindo’s eyes are wicked expressive.
This was a lesson to me - one that I knew, but that I had to relearn. Not everything is about your sexuality! Raphael was the most promiscuous of the masters, yet his work consists mostly of paintings of the Virgin or of happy little chubby angels. His most famous is The School of Athens. None of these paintings hint at his sexuality - and this is when I realized an old lesson: your life is not necessarily defined by your sexuality. So yes, sometimes its nice to have art as a way of expressing your sexuality, but sometimes, art, like other things, is not about your sexuality. You have to be careful not to read too much into everything.
However, since this is a blog about LGBT Art History, I have to put in my two cents. Like I said, everybody loved Raphael - including the Pope! Not sexually, but Raphael was the Pope’s darling. It was no secret then that Raphael was non-discriminating with his sexual partners, yet the Pope had no trouble accepting him. Once again, I must ask: when did our culture change so much? We’ve progressed in thousands of ways, yet in this one way, we’ve only regressed. We’ve forgotten about fundamental human rights - rights that even the staunch Catholic Church of the 16th century had no problem accepting.
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1506
The secret smile. The portrait that has enchanted the Western world for hundreds of years. Many, many theories have been put forth about who the Mona Lisa is, who she might represent, what the background means… one researcher seems particularly infatuated with her cholesterol levels.
The theory I think most people are most familiar with is that this is a self portrait. This theory is particularly popular because of the woman’s masculine features and the work of one researcher who compared underlying bone structure between one of da Vinci’s known self portraits and the Mona Lisa. This theory presents an intriguing idea: why is da Vinci representing himself as a woman? This then brings up the point that da Vinci was probably gay, as were his contemporaries, Michelangelo and Raphael. Though, as I’ve mentioned before, the idea of being gay didn’t really exist way back when - and, interestingly enough, the Church had little problem with, especially when it came to its artistic darlings, like Raphael. But I digress, back to da Vinci’s self portrait of himself as a woman. If this is indeed true, then what does this identification mean for him? Is it a manifestation of his sexual preferences? Is this the earlier version of Rupaul’s drag race? Or does it have nothing to do with any of this at all?
Of course, we now know the exact identity of the woman in the portrait, which to many discounts the theory of this being a self portrait. However, just because we know the identity of the woman, it doesn’t make this portrait any less intriguing. Who knows what da Vinci’s original intention was? But then again… who really cares? The great thing about art, and about the discipline of art history, is that it’s not just about the artist’s intention. It’s all about what we have made of art over the years, and how we, as viewers, interpret it. So, how do you interpret it?
As some parting words, I’ll give you one artist’s rather interesting take on the portrait:
L.H.O.O.Q, Marcel Duchamp, 1919.
For all you francophiles out there, go ahead and say the title out loud. Catch anything? In addition to giving the Mona Lisa a beard and a mustache, Duchamp has also claimed that she is wicked horny.
Louis XIV, Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701
Angelina Jolie, 2012 Oscars
There’s a 300 year time difference between these portraits, but not much has changed. One is a painting, one is a picture, but that’s about the only difference. Louis XIV was the king of France, and Angelina Jolie is about as close as Hollywood gets to royalty. The only other difference? Louis was a man, and she’s a woman.
Imagine Angelina Jolie striking this pose 300 years ago. Scandal! Huge scandal! The only skin women could show back then was her decolletage, and I’m pretty sure that was only allowed because men wanted to see it. The idea of a woman displaying her leg in such a fashion would have been ludicrous. The pose, however, was a favorite of Louis XIV’s. Why? One reason, certainly, is because he thought his shoes were just the bee’s knee’s. The most important reason? Because he loved his legs. He enjoyed dancing, and he was proud of his legs. Naturally, just like Angelina Jolie, he wanted to show them off. Once upon a time, art showed a completely different side of male sexuality.
Now let’s put Louis in Angelina’s position. It’s 2012, and the king of Hollywood shows up to the Oscars in a dress and strikes this pose. Scandal! Huge scandal!
When did this role reversal occur? It’s the same pose, for the same reason, by someone who has a lot of power. So why would Angelina have shocked in 1701, and Louis in 2012? Human sexuality has clearly undergone quite the change in this time period. While we’ve grown so much in terms of feminism, we’ve only regressed in terms of acceptance. If society could have accepted Louis then, then why not now?
I made this for everyone that doesn’t want to use the HRC’s logo, but does want show some support/pride/etc. Like I said in my earlier post, I’m not keen on heteronormativity, marriage, or the HRC, but I am keen on the visibility and potential for dialogue that comes along with this particular situation. And I’m keen on queer rights.
Feel free to use the above graphic on your own Tumblr/Facebook/whatever! And challenge people to do more than simply change their profile picture. (Changing profile pic does not equal an actual shift in thought/language/acceptance.)
Here is a great example of someone who did their own thing for a great reason. It’s a cool piece of art from someone who is (maybe? I dunno) not necessarily an artist but who still made art, throwing another variable in this on going definition thing that I have happening.
Here’s a whole blog about the equality signs. Enjoy!
Marcel Duchamp was quite the rebel went he sent a urinal turned on its side and signed R. Mutt to a museum and called it a piece of art.
He championed the idea of the ready made: an object made by someone else that an artist takes and calls art. His “Fountain” had some minor adjustments to its original form, but some of his other work, like “The Bottle Rack,” had no adjustments at all.
For the purpose of my point, I’m gonna jump the gun and call this art, without adding my explanation. Let’s apply the idea of a ready made to Facebook. Are profile pictures ready mades, and consequently, are they art? My whole thing is that if someone calls themselves an artist and then calls something art, then I’m gonna call it art too. People aren’t calling the original equality symbols their own art, but what about some of the derivations? If someone made a derivation themselves, then I think we can all agree that it’s art. But what if someone takes the original equality symbol, adds a caption, and then calls it art. Is this art? Is it a ready made (an adjusted ready made, because of the added caption)? Or is plagiarizing?
In the spirit of the togetherness we have all shown on Facebook but sharing these pictures, I’ll put them all together in this one post.
These are probably my favorite, just because I’m a sucker for Rothko, esthetically speaking. Unfortunately, I know nothing about what his art means, except that it flattens the pictoral space and challenges our idea of pictoral space. It’s something that is a 2-D representation, but easily becomes 3-D in my mind (and that’s just awesome).