Gay and Lesbian People in History

Leonardo da Vinci

The ultimate renaissance man, Leonardo was felt to represent not only humanity but also divinity itself. His famous drawing of Vitruvius Man demonstrates the perfection of the proportions of the human figure. Besides his amazing notebooks, he created the most famous religious painting in the world and, of course, the most famous portrait ever.



<< We always think of Leonardo like this famous self-portrait, but you figure he must've been young once.

The following is from Serge Bramly's great book about him:

No other personality was so intimidating, no other career so difficult to encompass, so biographers often resort to the assumption that Leonardo embodied some superhuman quality: "il divino". Vasari (a contemporary biographer of Leonardo) writes "there is something supernatural in the accumulation in one individual of so much beauty, grace, and might. With his right hand he could twist an iron horseshoe as if it were made of lead. In his liberality, he welcomed and gave food to any friend, rich or poor." His kindness, his sweet nature, his eloquence ("his speech could bend in any direction the most obdurate of wills") his regal magnanimity, his sense of humor, his love of wild creatures, his "terrible strength in argument, sustained by intelligence and memory," the subtlety of his mind "which never ceased to devise inventions," his aptitude for mathematics, science, music, poetry. What's more, GayHeroes.comLeonardo was a man of "physical beauty beyond compare."




SalaiHow do we know Leonardo was gay?

When he was twenty-four years old, Leonardo was arrested, along with several young companions, on the charge of sodomy.


No witnesses appeared against them and eventually the charges were dropped. It must be said that often anonymous charges like this were brought against people just for a nuisance. Renaissance Florentines didn't make the distinctions we make about sexuality today and apparently it was common for young men to get into sexual relationships; in fact, the word "Florenzer" was German slang for "homosexual". Leonardo had no relationships with women, never married, had no children, and raised many young protégés, including one nicknamed "Salai" which means "offspring of Satan", sketches of whom are shown above. Salai stole things, broke things, lied, and was generally a, well, devil; if he were a mere student or servant he would have been sacked. It's not hard for me to see how this imp would be attractive to Leonardo (or to me, now that I mention it). He stayed with Leonardo for over twenty years, and appears many times in Leonardo's sketchbooks.


But don't just take MY word for it....

From Serge Bramly, Leonardo: Discovering the Life of Leonardo Da Vinci (1991):

Among several citations under "Homosexuality" in the index are the following:

"Yet while no definite proof exists of Leonardo's homosexuality, there are plenty of indications, in his drawings as well as in his writings, that he was attracted to males, and, as Freud puts it, 'doubtful whether he ever embraced a woman with love'." p. 119

"There is no record of any woman in his life -- not even a female friendship. On the other hand, he was soon surrounding himself with a constantly renewed court of remarkably beautiful young men." p. 119

There follows six pages on Salai, one of Leonardo's "remarkably beautiful young men", starting at p. 223.

So there is no doubt that Mr. Bramly thinks that Leonardo was gay.

From Michael White, Leonardo, The First Scientist (2000):

"He [Leonardo] was a homosexual vegetarian born out of wedlock who received very little formal education and was excluded by birthright from almost all professions." p. 7

About the sodomy accusation, he writes:

"It is possible that up to this time he had felt no real guilt about his homosexuality, that it had either been natural to him, or else he accepted it as part of his self-image; after all, there were certainly plenty of role models [in other Florentine painters] for him." p. 72

In describing Leonardo's relationship with Lorenzo de Medici, White writes:

"Lorenzo was heterosexual, later described by Machiavelli as "incredibly given to the pleasures of Venus". Leonardo was homosexual with a very public sodomy trial behind him. However, it is certain the different sexual tastes of the two men would not have been a major factor in the progress of their relationship. After all, Lorenzo actively encouraged at least one other homosexual artist, Michelangelo, giving him a string of commissions and even opening his homes to him, treating him almost as a social equal." p. 83-84

Then, writing about Salai, White says:

"Biographers have skirted the issue of Leonardo's relationship with Salai because it has been a subject too sensitive to investigate candidly. Kenneth Clark, writing in the 1930s, simply refers to the relationship by saying "these facts... inevitably suggest that his relationship with the master was of a kind honored in classical times, and partly tolerated in the renaissance, in spite of the censure of the Church." p. 137

"... Giacomo [Salai's real name] soon became a fixture in his life and was hardly to leave his side for the next three decades. From his actions and the way Leonardo treated him, Salai played the role of son, friend, helper, and quite possibly, lover." p. 137

So there is no doubt that, like Mr. Bramly, Mr. White thinks that both Leonardo and Michelangelo were gay. So if you include Kenneth Clark, the British art historian whom White quotes, there's three experts right there who think Leonardo was gay.




Have you heard of Sister Wendy? She is an English nun who became an art expert and made several BBC TV shows. Sister Wendy attributes the knowing smile of the Mona Lisa to the subject's sharing of a private joke with the artist: they both know he is gay. She says something like, here this beautiful noblewoman was sitting for her wedding portrait, and she and the artist both knew getting married was something Leonardo would never do, because he was gay, and they both saw the humor and irony in it, hence the mysterious smile. Get Sister Wendy Beckett on video or DVD and hear her discuss the Mona Lisa.




Nude studies from one of Leonardo's notebooks.
Leonardo da Vinci Nude

GayHeroes.comLeonardo's friend Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman who is famous for his advocacy of unscrupulous political opportunism, had a son, Ludovico, who apparently had a boyfriend. Machiavelli wrote to a friend to ask what he should do about it. The friend, who was Florence's ambassador to the Papal Court, replied:

"Since we are verging on old age, we might be severe and overly scrupulous, and we do not remember what we did as adolescents. So Ludovico has a boy with him, with whom he amuses himself, jests, takes walks, growls in his ear, goes to bed together. What then? Even in these things perhaps there is nothing bad."




Leonardo da Vinci drawing
Leonardo da Vinci drawing
Leonardo da Vinci drawing

GayHeroes.comHis notebooks show the amazing diversity of Leonardo's intellect.




Pssst... wanna see some paintings?

The most famous religious painting in the world and the most famous portrait ever were painted by a gay man.

Click here to check out some of Leonardo's amazing work.

The big (size does matter!) high-resolution graphics take a minute to load, but it's well worth it to experience the brilliance of Leonardo's art.


For mature viewers only....

Apparently, Leonardo included some sexually explicit drawings among the thousands in his notebooks.

Click here to see one. It will open in a new window. BookstoreThere are a million great books out there about Leonardo da Vinci. Like at your library, for instance.


of gay pop songs!

with tunes like "I Like Mike" and "Cryin' Over Brian"

And what about you??? Leonardo's entire life was an amazing work of art which contributed truth and beauty to the human experience. Just like yours? Fill out a HERO FORM and tell the world what you're up to. We'll post your story here at on our LEGENDS LIST for all to see. It's easy, it's fun, it's self-aggrandizing!

Fill out a HERO FORM! Don't MYTH your chance to be on the LEGENDS LIST! Click here to fill out a HERO FORM. Click here to check out the LEGENDS LIST.

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Jay Spears
Date Last Modified: 2/1/05

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