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Path 2 - Male Artists and Homosexuality

The second path deals with works of art made by homosexual men or by artists connected with homosexual milieus.

Artistic Open-Mindedness About Sexual Orientation

Bans on homosexual behaviour had a deep impact on the lives of all the artists included in this path. It constrained their social relations as well as their ability to work as artists. Their proximity to homosexuality, whether they themselves were homosexual or not, was crucial to their artistic production and sometimes even for their relationships with patrons. However, this essential element of their biographies is still largely ignored in most art-historical writing.

Donatello’s David – a Biblical Hero*

Donatello, who according to several sources may have been homosexual himself, is considered one of the fathers of the Renaissance. In his sculptural work, he coupled classical sensuality with Christian morality and humanism, illustrating for the first time the neo-platonic approach to the notion of love in his depictions of the biblical figure of King David. In the version housed in the Bode Museum, David is covered with only a cloak and a very short tunic, which leaves his right leg almost completely bare right up to the hip. The focus on his beautiful male body is underlined by his slightly twisted hips and raised left leg. Donatello was certainly not the first artist to represent the king, but he was indeed the first one to depict him as an attractive and androgynous adolescent.

Vincenzo Pacetti and the Barberini Faun

Homosexuality also features in the oeuvre of Vincenzo Pacetti (1746–1820). Pacetti is particularly important for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin because around 10,000 drawings from his collection are now housed in the Kupferstichkabinett. Today, however, we are interested in his work primarily as a restorer of antique sculptures.

In 1620, one such sculpture, probably made in the 3rd century BCE, was found in Rome: the work now known as The Barberini Faun. Despite extensive damage – for instance, the right leg and the left arm were missing – it soon came to be regarded as one of the masterpieces of antique sculpture.

When the sculpture ended up in Pacetti’s possession for a period in 1799, he took the opportunity to alter some of the restored missing parts, which had already been reworked several times before. By clearly lifting the right leg, Pacetti further strengthened the Faun’s already distinctly erotic pose. It was in this context that a terracotta model of the Faun was created, which is now on display in the Bode-Museum.