Considering Michelangelo’s Antisocial Behavior in the Times of the Coronavirus

Bleak times appear to be ahead for all of us, as number of coronavirus cases are on the rise again all over the world. The looking threat of another imminent lockdown, which has been actuated in some parts of the world, hangs over us like a shadow.

It is important, in these times, to remain positive. It’s easy to give into the negativity brought on by such frustration. Why not embrace, instead, the potential of having to spend time on our own? Such potential includes the possibility of learning a new skill and dedicating our time to passionate self-development, in response to social distancing.

Indeed, this has been the secret of many of the great masters of the past. Including Michelangelo, the great Italian Renaissance sculptor, among the most celebrated of his period. Michelangelo lived a remarkably long life during which he held fort as the most important artist in the world, loyally serving several popes in his lifetime.

A true Renaissance man, Michelangelo was a 360 degree artist — a painter, poet, architect and philosopher. But most of all, especially as the years progressed, he considered himself a sculptor. In reading Martin Gayford’s 2013 biography on his life, Michelangelo: His Epic Life, I have been fascinated to find that he had already reached an incredibly high standard of sculpting in his adolescence.

Part of his secret, Michelangelo would have said, was that he was endowned with a divine gift from God himself. He so wanted to promote this idea that in his lifetime, he almost successfully concealed the contribution of the people who trained him in his craft, including Ghirlandaio, and underplayed the importance of his mentors in his formative years.

Yet, to be sure, part of the reason why he was able to reach such a high standard of sculpting from an early age was that he truly did eat, think and breathe art, and dedicated himself wholly to perfecting his skills. In fact, Gayford even concludes from his research on Michelangelo’s formative years that as a young man, he was downright anti-social.

“Michelangelo, however, stood apart from these musical parties. It sounds as though, even as an adolescent, he was already antisocial, reclusive, and driven: constantly drawing and carving. Only such dedication could explain the rapidity of the progress he made. Within two years, he had become as skilful a sculptor in marble as any alive.”

Martin Gayford, Michelangelo: His Epic Life

In coming across this particular quote, I found it particularly inspiring and worth of being shared. I am not suggesting that the key to maintining a positive frame of mind is withdrawing from the world entirely, though it may suit some just fine. However, I do believe that in these times where withdrawing from others is more or less imposed on us, remembering that Michelangelo’s self-imposed social distancing greatly contributed to his rise as one of the greatest artists in the world.


Leonardo Had a Quick Eye and a Queer Eye

A partial transcript of Episode 15 of THE ART MOVEMENT. To listen to the full radio show, click here.

Have you ever heard of a show titled Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? This was a reality TV show where a team of gay men dispensed advice on fashion, food, wine and culture to straight counterparts who have trouble impressing the ladies. Get ready for the silliest segue ever, as a new research conducted by a scientist in Switzerland has been released and it focuses on how Leonardo Da Vinci’s superior visual acuity might have enabled the master to depict liminal moments, including the Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile in his works.

Professor David S Thaler focused on drawings by da Vinci of dragonfly in movement and how their wings are out of sync – something confirmed centuries later. This led Thaler and colleagues to determine that the great master saw the world in a kind of ‘freeze frame’ where he could remember an individual shot in a sequence. 

On the subject of the Mona Lisa, Thaler writes that the “enigmatic nature” of the subject’s smile “may be that it is not a smile being held but the transient moment of a smile being formed. Perhaps Leonardo was able to apprehend Lisa’s smile effectively in slow motion and thereby capture the most meaningful transients of movement.”

Not much is known about why Leonardo never gave his painting of the Mona Lisa to the depicted woman’s husband — if indeed the painting had been commissioned at all. But the point that I wanted to get at is that this research on Leonardo’s quick eye was released during Pride Month and this is as good a time as any to remind people that Leonardo also had a queer eye. See that segue now?

The thousands of pages written by Leonardo in his journals provide plenty of clues to conclude without a doubt that he was romantically attracted to men. An article on The New Yorker states that Leonardo was arrested in 1476, when he was on the verge of 24, he was arrested for practicing homoerotic acts with the 17 year old apprentice of a local goldsmith. At the time, of course, Renaissance Florence was doing its best to control sodomy, because it was notorously prevalent in the territory that the contemporary German slang for a homosexual was Florenzer.

He got lucky on this occasion, jailed for a relatively short period of time, though other legal punishments would have ranged from a large fine to burning at the stake. Nevertheless, this event did not discourage Leonardo from loving other men throughout his life. An article on mentions two of them: Francesco Melzi, who became something of a private secretary to the Renaissance genius in 1505, and Gian Giacomo Caprotti, better known as Salaí, who by the way is rumored to have been the real model for the Mona Lisa.

So, quick eye and queer eye? Both, I believe, are essential parts of Leonardo’s huge body of work — though some would probably rather conveniently forget about the queer eye!