Are You Saying Leonardo Was Gay?

Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo da Vinci 1452-11519, selfportrait ca. 1515. Biblioteca Reale, Torino Italy
Leemage / Getty Images

No, I am not saying Leonardo was gay. I don't know if Leonardo was gay. I don't, personally, care if Leonardo was gay. Frankly, it's none of my--or, really, anybody's--business who (if anyone) or what (if anything) titillated Leonardo's libido 500 years after the fact, but I am trying to give those who do care some information.

Smarter people than me have said that, yes, Leonardo was gay. Sigmund Freud outed him (and blamed his mother) back in 1910.

One must of course take a post-centuries-mortem psychological analysis with many grains of salt. Sir Kenneth Clark, an art historian for whom I have great respect, more recently opined that Leonardo was probably a passive homosexual. In other words, the jury is out and will remain so until we discover a tell-all biography dating from Renaissance Italy.

What is absolutely untrue is the reference in The Da Vinci Code to Leonardo's reputation as a "flamboyant homosexual." He was not known as such. Historical evidence is sketchy about the latter, and the only thing Leonardo was "flamboyant" about was his inability to finish projects he started.

Leonardo was rumored to have been homosexual by his contemporaries. He was, in fact, twice charged with sodomy in 1476. Though he was imprisoned for two months, the charges were dropped for lack of witnesses. It must be duly noted that he was one of four people charged with sodomizing the individual in this particular case, which was subsequently dropped.

Additionally, accusing someone of sodomy, in 15th century Florence, was not an infrequent tactic used to cause someone else trouble. Leonardo was anonymously accused, and it's quite tempting to speculate that the accuser was a lesser-talented artist.

Leonardo never married. If he had female lovers, they have some really, really carefully hidden identities.

None of that would make him gay by default. (It would go some ways toward explaining, however, lack of a readily available nude female model.)

As mentioned elsewhere, he drew a lot more young men in his notebooks than women. One might assume, from this, that the male figure was more interesting to Leonardo than was the female.

Some of the young men he drew were nude. One might assume that this was either (a) a reflection of Leonardo's interest in human anatomy, (b) a reflection of Leonardo's interest in naked men, (c) a combination of the two or (d) none of the above. There is always a danger of (d) being the case, when it comes to assumptions.

I brought up the gay "issue" only in conjunction with The Last Supper, to try to explain John's gender-bending appearance. My point was, and remains: "John" is no anomaly, bolt out of the blue or unprecedented mystery. There is more than one instance of Leonardo portraying a guy as a "pretty" young guy.

For Further Reading:

  • Andersen, Wayne. Freud, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Vulture's Tail.
    New York: Other Press, 2001.
  • Clark, Lord Kenneth. Leonardo da Vinci.
    New York: Penguin Books, 1989.
  • Freud, Sigmund.
    Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood [1910].
    Translated by Alan Tyson with an introduction by Brian Farrel
    London: Penguin Books, 1962.
  • Rocke, Michael. Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence
    New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.