Was Leonardo da Vinci gay, bisexual, heterosexual or what?

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019. New York City – Do you think it is important to know the sexual orientation of Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, more commonly known as Leonardo da Vinci?

Hettie Judah wrote an article about two of his young and handsome male assistants, Salaí and Melzi. Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno – known by Da Vinci as Salaí was a 10 years old boy when entered Leonardo’s workshop in 1490. Salaí stayed with Leonardo for 25 years. Francesco Melzi came into Leonardo’s life in around 1505. Melzi stayed with Leonardo until his death in 1519.

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“Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (14/15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519), more commonly known as Leonardo da Vinci, was an Italian polymath of the Renaissance whose areas of interest included invention, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, paleontology, and cartography. He is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time, despite perhaps only 15 of his paintings having survived. The Mona Lisa is the most famous of his works and the most popular portrait ever made. The Last Supper is the most reproduced religious painting of all time and his Vitruvian Man drawing is regarded as a cultural icon as well. Leonardo’s paintings and preparatory drawings—together with his notebooks, which contain sketches, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting—compose a contribution to later generations of artists rivalled only by that of his contemporary Michelangelo.

Although he had no formal academic training, many historians and scholars regard Leonardo as the prime exemplar of the “Universal Genius” or “Renaissance Man”, an individual of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination.” He is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent in recorded history, and “his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, while the man himself mysterious and remote.” Scholars interpret his view of the world as being based in logic, though the empirical methods he used were unorthodox for his time.”_

Leonardo da Vinci was gay

The lusts of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s Cecilia has sloping, slender shoulders, white skin over delicate collarbones, a pale throat adorned with a black necklace, an exquisitely elongated face with a superb nose. She is turning to look at someone, perhaps at Sforza himself. This sidewards turn gives the artist an unselfconscious view of her, and in it one senses the depth of Leonardo’s fascination. It is not just Sforza who adores Cecilia. From this portrait, it looks as if the painter would like to sleep with her, too.

This sensational study will be the wonder of wonders at the National Gallery’s Leonardo exhibition, which opens next month. Its arrival from Krakow, where the violence and divisions of 20th-century history have made it more or less invisible for many years – and so skewed the oeuvre of the world’s greatest artist – will introduce us to another Leonardo da Vinci: the man who loved women.

The idea that Leonardo could be aroused by a woman at all is a bit of a surprise. This is not the image of him that has come down to us. Ever since Renaissance witnesses recorded that he loved to surround himself with beautiful young men, his homosexuality has been an open secret. As a youth, he was twice accused of sodomy, though never prosecuted (apparently because the young men who were charged with him came from powerful and wealthy families). Yet Leonardo, as Vasari’s account of his life and the artist’s own notebooks confirm, went on to live openly with a household of youths led by Salai, his handsome, thieving apprentice – to whom he eventually left the Mona Lisa.

In 1910, Sigmund Freud published a revolutionary psychoanalytic study in which he argued that Leonardo was homosexual but celibate, and that he sublimated his erotic side into endless research. Freud pointed to a coldly clinical drawing of heterosexual intercourse among Leonardo’s notes, which shows the lovers standing up, like mannequins. It is conversely true that Leonardo drew many highly detailed studies of the anal sphincter. When he died, he left some works to Salai, while his more recent companion Francesco Melzi inherited his notebooks.

This view of Leonardo is essentially true, but it does leave something out. All his life, the painter was passionately involved with women – on canvas, at least. It was not just that Leonardo liked to portray women (of his five surviving portraits, four are of women; the fifth is of a young musician). It has to do with the way he chose to depict women, the way he showed them to be fully rounded human beings. While earlier Renaissance artists had sculpted and painted profoundly characterful portraits of men (look at Mino da Fiesole’s rugged bust of Diotisalvi Neroni), when they turned their attention to women, they seemed obsessed only with exterior beauty. In Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s portrait of an unknown woman, done in about 1475 and now hanging in the Uffizi, the model stands in profile. We cannot see her eyes, or guess at what she’s thinking. Leonardo’s teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio, made a marble bust of a nameless young woman, a truly great Florentine work (now in the Bargello museum in Florence), but her eyes are blank, her mind apparently absent.

Even while he was fighting off sodomy accusations in Florence, the 26-year-old Leonardo da Vinci painted a picture of a young woman that blew apart the patriarchal conventions of his native city. His Ginevra de‘ Benci turns to face us, her serious eyes meeting the beholder directly. She was the daughter of a wealthy Florentine family, but Leonardo dressed her in plain clothes in order to focus on her face; in a motto painted on the back of the wooden panel, he declared that she was not just good-looking but had „virtue“. Framed by a spiky bush of juniper (Ginevra means juniper), her young, coolly assertive face seems – when you see this painting in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC – to expand to fill your mind. It is not just her refined yet adolescent features, but the power of her eyes, shining with gravity; like the eyes in any Rembrandt self-portrait, they really do seem windows to the soul.

Leonardo moved to Milan near the start of the 1480s, and began working for Sforza, as an engineer, sculptor and painter. He portrayed the ladies of the court with the same sense of inner character he brought to Ginevra de‘ Benci. His subject La Belle Ferronnière (perhaps another of Sforza’s mistresses) looks over a parapet, her gaze mysterious. Isabella d’Este, who ruled Mantua in northern Italy, actively sought out Leonardo to paint her portrait, too. Italy’s handful of wealthy, independent women were fans and would-be patrons. Isabella wrote to Cecilia Gallerani, Leonardo’s most spectacular model, asking if she could borrow the portrait of her so that she could get an idea of his work. Cecilia obliged, although she warned Isabella that she had aged over the intervening decade and no longer looked like that. She must have been truly beautiful at 16, if she ever did look quite like that.

Leonardo’s portraits are flirtatious, none more so than the Mona Lisa, the Florentine merchant’s wife from whom he elicits such a tantalising smile. But while working on this last of his great portraits to have survived, he also created one of the most provocative female nudes ever painted by a Renaissance artist. Leonardo’s Leda is known today only from copies and sketches, but even these show that in the two versions he developed – one crouching, another standing – his nude was intended to inflame.

Earlier Renaissance artists were quite coy with their naked women. Botticelli’s Venus adopts a modest pose. But when Leonardo conceived Leda, in about 1504, it was as a nude whose abundantly available body anticipates and resembles the rampantly heterosexual bedroom paintings of Titian and Correggio. Whether crouching among the bulrushes or standing to embrace her swan lover, Leda has a body contoured and posed in a fleshy, sexy way. Soon, in Venice, the young Giorgione would paint overtly amorous nudes that went on to shape the erotica of Renaissance princes; he took his ideas directly from Leonardo, who visited Venice at the start of the century.

The artist had a theory about art and sex. (Of course he did; he was Leonardo – he had a theory about everything.) In his notebooks, he argues that painting is the greatest of all the arts because it can set a picture of your lover before you. A pastoral painting can remind you, in winter, of summer in the country with your beloved. He goes further, into blasphemy. He boasts that he once painted a Madonna so beautiful that the man who bought it was haunted by unseemly thoughts. Even after it was altered, perhaps with the addition of crosses and saintly symbols (as was done in Leonardo’s second version of The Virgin of the Rocks), it still gave him an erection when he tried to pray. So in the end he returned the painting to Leonardo, who delighted in this pornographic triumph.

Leonardo’s own sexuality appears to transcend gender, to slip into godlike fantasies of androgynous liaisons between worlds. His Virgin of the Rocks includes an angel whose gender it is impossible to determine. No other Renaissance artist was as preoccupied with androgyny: from his earliest works, including an angel he painted in a work by his master Verrocchio, it was Leonardo’s trademark. Perhaps in his imagination, he was such an angel, neither masculine nor feminine but both, and able to infuse the world with infinite longing.

We might end with his early painting The Annunciation. A young woman has been surprised in her garden by a winged messenger from paradise. This being looks at her with a hypnotically deep and steady gaze, as if penetrating her with its eyes. Beyond is the open door of a house, and within we glimpse the deep red softness of a bedroom. Is the charge of this religious painting sexual?

Or we could go back to his childhood. Leonardo’s memory of early childhood, one that fascinated Freud, was this. He remembered that a bird of prey came down to his crib, inserted its tail feathers in his mouth, and moved them about. Is the beat of those feathers still there in his paintings‘ unending flutter of desire?

The genius of Leonardo da Vinci

They pack the gallery at the Louvre in Paris — at least six million people a year — for a glimpse at a superstar. But a select few, like author Walter Isaacson, actually appreciate the „Mona Lisa“ as art.

„It’s the most famous painting in the world,“ he said. „And when you stand before it at the Louvre, you all of a sudden realize why. It’s the most emotional painting.“

She’s been a celebrity for 500 years. But we know a lot more about the celebrity artist who painted her than we do about Mona Lisa herself. 

Largely because her creator, Leonardo da Vinci, documented his life’s work in painstaking detail: some 7,200 pages of scribbles and sketches survive.

„You know, Leonardo may have been the person with the greatest amount of curiosity of any human who ever existed,“ Isaacson said. „And he would make lists in his notebooks of things he wanted to know. Like, how do they walk on ice in Holland? Or, describe the tongue of the woodpecker. Now, who in the world would wake up one morning and put on their to-do list ‚describe the tongue of the woodpecker‘? But there it is.

„And over and over again, Leonardo is just putting down in his notebook things he’s curious about.“

Isaacson’s own curiosity has given us bestselling books about Albert Einstein and Apple’s Steve Jobs. And his just-released biography of Leonardo da Vinci (published by CBS‘ Simon & Schuster) will also be a film, starring another Leonardo.

„There’s a story that Leonardo DiCaprio’s told, which is that when his mother was pregnant with him, she was at the Uffizi,“ Isaacson told LaPook. „There’s a wonderful Annunciation there. Looking at the painting, he starts kicking, and the dad said, ‚We’re gonna name him Leonardo.'“

BOOK EXCERPT: Read a chapter from Isaacson’s „Leonardo da Vinci“

DiCaprio’s namesake was born out of wedlock in Florence in 1452. With little formal schooling, he was apprenticed at age 14 to an engineer and artist, and Leonardo’s skill and imagination flourished.

„Florence was very tolerant of a guy like Leonardo, who was left-handed and gay and vegetarian and illegitimate,“ Isaacson said.

And, it seems, quite a hunk. „Leonardo was also incredibly good-looking, in very good shape, extraordinarily athletic, long, curling hair. I think that ‚Vitruvian Man‘ — the guy in the circle and the square spread eagle — I think it’s partly a self-portrait.“

But perhaps most of all, Leonardo was stunningly inventive. For instance, he created a portable bridge, „which you can just pop up in the middle of a battle if you have to cross a river.“

The Aspen Institute, the nonprofit think tank Isaacson helped to shape for many years, recently held a celebration of all things Leonardo on its Colorado campus.

Sketches were transformed into three-dimensional models, like his famous helicopter („I think it was first designed for the theater, ‚cause he was doing all these amazing props, having people fly in and descend and ascend on the stage“), and an underwater diving apparatus („He said it would be a great way to sort of attack ships. In fact, he kept secret some of the details for fear that the enemies could figure it out“).

But it’s Leonardo’s sketches that may set him apart. 

Now so valuable that when curators at New York’s Metropolitan Museum agreed to give us a peek, at first they would only show us copies, until we promised to limit exposure to our television lights.

„You know, when I saw these for the first time, it’s like, oh my goodness, there’s the hand of the artist,“ Isaacson said. „It’s just as if he were making it in front of me. Every time you see it, there’s a new layer to appreciate.“

Of Leonardo’s drawing of the head of a virgin, Isaacson said, „Something’s happening here. Something’s caught her eye. She has turned her head. It’s a study for many paintings he would do later. But you realize that he didn’t just love objects; he understands how human movements reflect the emotions of the mind.“

Only one Leonardo painting is in the collection of an American museum: a portrait of Ginevra de‘ Benci at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Dr. LaPook asked, „How did it help change Renaissance painting?“

„Up until then, Renaissance painting had had sort of sharp lines,“ Isaacson said. „And Leonardo said, ‚That’s not the way nature works.‘ So there’s a smokiness to the lines.

„But the great thing about this picture is, you see a young Leonardo who’s on a path to painting the Mona Lisa. But this isn’t the Mona Lisa.“

There’s something else uniquely da Vinci about this portrait: „Leonardo cared even about the parts unseen. So he paints the back of Ginevra de‘ Benci. And we realize he still has more to teach us.“

Leonardo even taught himself anatomy with dozens of human dissections. He documented how the aortic valve in the heart works — something researchers only confirmed in recent years.

And then there’s his knowledge of the eye. „He realized that the center, when you’re staring at something, you see the detail. And if you’re slightly off, it goes to a different part of the retina. The harder you look directly at the Mona Lisa’s lips, the more it looks like her lips are turned down. But as your eyes wander, she starts smiling at you. So it flickers.“

„Did Leonardo da Vinci figure out a way to have a painting flirt with the viewer?“ LaPook asked.

„Yes, he figured out a way to have it interact. In the Mona Lisa you see the combination of all of Leonardo’s anatomy and science with his art.“

And what better place to discuss Leonardo’s genius — and his „Last Supper“ — than over an Italian meal? Emotion, spirituality and drama make this fresco one of the world’s most admired works of art, studied down to the tiniest detail — which is how we found out what may be the origin of one of our most familiar superstitions. „It is certainly one of the greatest Biblical moments ever, which is Judas knocking over the salt in that painting,“ Isaacson said.

The artist, engineer and scientist who lived a life of boundless curiosity died in 1519. He was 67, and left no known children.

Leonardo da Vinci died a poor man. But, says Walter Isaacson, he left us a wealth of lessons.

When asked if he has found himself looking at the world differently, the da Vinci biographer replied, „I walked over here to the Metropolitan Museum through Central Park, and I took a little bit of extra time, because he loved the way light hit leaves and formed shadows. He’s somebody who says: pause for a moment and look at the way the water is falling into the pond. Those are the type of things he noticed. And I try to push myself to notice things that Leonardo would’ve noticed.“

His only passionate involvement with women was on canvas.

Is Mona Lisa a composite of a man and a woman? That’s what one prominent art historian said in April, sending everyone into a damn tizzy.

The historian, Silvano Vinceti, claimed that the painting is partly a portrait of a Florentine woman named Lisa and partly a painting of a fellow named Gian Giacomo Caprotti — who some believe was Leonardo da Vinci’s gay lover.

Caprotti went to live with da Vinci (who died in 1519) when he was 10 years old, and stayed for the next 20 years. Da Vinci nicknamed him Salai, or “Little Devil.”

Vinceti said he had studied the da Vinci paintings that Salai had modeled for. These included a portrait of St. John the Baptist that was based on a sketch da Vinci made of Salai with an erection. The sketch is called The Incarnate Angel; Da Vinci left the erection out of the St. John portrait.

Vinceti said he had also examined the Mona Lisa using infrared technology to make his determination. One of the leading da Vinci experts, Oxford art professor Martin Kemp wasn’t convinced, however. “The infrared images do nothing to support the idea that da Vinci somehow painted a blend of Lisa Gherardini and Salai,” Kemp told the Telegraph. Kemp says we don’t know what Salai looked like, beyond another artist’s description of him as “a pretty boy with curly hair, but that was a standard type of the era. It featured in da Vinci’s work long before Salai came on the scene.”

“This is a mish-mash of known things, semi-known things and complete fantasy,” Kemp says. But whether Salai was a model for the Mona Lisa or not doesn’t shed light on whether da Vinci was gay.

Da Vinci defies simple description because, well, he was good at everything. The very reason we have the term “Renaissance Man,” he was an inventor, sculptor, painter, musician, mathematician, engineer, writer, anatomist, geologist … and the list goes on. (He even designed a helicopter.) He is also sometimes revered as a gay icon, something armchair historians and bloggers love to debate. So was that the case?

It’s true da Vinci never married, and was not known to have had any romantic relationships with women, according to Oxford University’s Kandice Rawlings.

One reason people believe he was gay is because the world’s most famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud, said so in a 1910 essay. The essay, “Leonardo da Vinci and A Memory of His Childhood,” argues that the artist was celibate but secretly gay, and that he sublimated these inclinations through a deep study of human anatomy.

“Freud pointed to a coldly clinical drawing of heterosexual intercourse among da Vinci’s notes, which shows the lovers standing up, like mannequins,” writes art critic Jonathan Jones in the Guardian, who adds that “Leonardo drew many highly detailed studies of the anal sphincter.”

Jones believes da Vinci was “almost certainly gay,” but points out that he was also “passionately involved with women — on canvas, at least.” He says earlier Renaissance artists often gave their depictions of men with deep character but depicted women only in terms of their physical beauty, often with “blank” eyes. Jones says da Vinci’s portraits were downright revolutionary and “showed them to be fully rounded human beings.” While earlier artists depicted female sexuality with timidity or coyness, da Vinci conveyed their sensuality, as evidenced by the Mona Lisa’s flirtatious smile.

“He boasts that he once painted a Madonna so beautiful that the man who bought it was haunted by unseemly thoughts,” Jones writes. “Even after it was altered, perhaps with the addition of crosses and saintly symbols, it still gave him an erection when he tried to pray. So in the end he returned the painting to da Vinci, who delighted in this pornographic triumph.”

Proponents of a gay da Vinci also point out that he was arrested on sodomy charges in 1476, though he was later cleared. Do the charges indicate he was gay? Maybe not.

Historian Michael Rocke writes that Florentine men of that era became sexually active in their early teens, but didn’t traditionally marry until about 30. During those middle years, Rocke says it was commonplace for men in their 20s to have sex with men younger than 20 — who weren’t yet considered to have attained masculine maturity—as long as the older man was “on top.” (To reverse that was against the “natural order” and unheard of.)

At least some people didn’t like this, because a court called The Office of the Night was set up to charge and punish men for sodomy. Its copious records illustrate how common it was, but also indicate a high degree of social acceptance.

“[The court] seemed to have been partly window-dressing, as Florence had a reputation abroad as the capital of the sodomites and partly as a means to collect fines. Or call it a tax on sodomy. This court was called the Office of the Night, and in a city of about 40,000 people, Rocke estimates that as many as 17,000 were incriminated at least once, but only 60 were condemned to prison, exile or death.”

Most men convicted of sodomy paid a fine or donated some flour to a convent and went on with their lives, marrying women, having children and so forth. Rocke’s research suggests that in 15th-century Florence, being “gay” wasn’t the thing it was today. Consider also that the word “homosexual” didn’t even make it into the dictionary until 1897. Given da Vinci’s great contributions to art and science, a better question to ask is why some people today care so much.

Oxford University’s Rawlings says, “there’s no way of knowing Leonardo’s sexual orientation for sure,” and that “scholars’ opinions on the issue fall along a spectrum between ‘maybe’ and ‘very probably.’”

OK, but was Leonardo da Vinci gay, bisexual, heterosexual or what?

Hettie Judah wrote the article, “The men who Leonardo da Vinci loved” on , “As historic characters, Salaí (Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno) and Melzi (Francesco Melzi) come down to us through Leonardo’s depictions of them in word and image – both men were noted for their beauty, and Salaí is thought to be the model for the paintings Bacchus and Saint John the Baptist. To both composer and librettist, the relationships appear to have been more intense and profound than simply artist and assistants. “Leonardo draws Salaí so much, it’s not hard to say he was a muse as well,” says Mills. “Everyone considers him to have been Leonardo’s companion – he buys him expensive clothes, they travel together, everyone talks about how beautiful he was.”

In negotiating their way through the hard facts of Da Vinci’s life – and the gaps between them – Mills and Mullin enlisted the help of leading scholars Martin Kemp and Martin Clayton. “We wanted the conclusions we were drawing to be as likely as possible and as historically accurate as possible,” says Mills. “Leonardo scholars and academics conclude he very likely was gay, everything points toward that – the opera gives us a chance to explore that part of him in a year when everything else is being explored.”

While Da Vinci was a man ahead of his time in many ways, the nature of his companionship with Salaí was very much of its day. “Relationships like this between adult men and teenage boys were actually quite common in the world Leonardo moved in,” says Mullin. In the period Leonardo lived in Florence early in his career, homosexual relationships were so prevalent that the term ‘Florenzer’ became German slang for same-sex relationships. However in an attempt to control the practice, the city government encouraged citizens to denounce it. Aged 23, Leonardo was among four artists publicly accused of sodomy following an anonymous tip-off. “It is not known for certain if he went to jail,” says Mullin. “But that public shaming may have encouraged Leonardo to turn in on himself.”

The result of this inward gaze, Mills explains, is that “we don’t know much about Leonardo the man. In some ways it doesn’t matter what his sexuality was…”

So, was Leonardo da Vinci gay? Does it matter if he was homosexual?

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We know a great deal about Leonardo da Vinci’s interests in botany and human anatomy; about his explorations of flight, of war machines and the flow of water; of his skills as a painter, and even his reputation for leaving projects unfinished. But what do we know of the man, of his passions, of Leonardo in love? Leonardo left nothing that could be read directly as a diary or journal: his interest was in the outer, rather than the inner, world. Nevertheless, writers, from the 16th-Century biographer Giorgio Vasari to Sigmund Freud, have scoured the thousands of pages of written notes left by Leonardo for clues.

Five hundred years after his death – with exhibitions around Europe celebrating his art, engineering, science and ideas – a new opera celebrates a more private side of the Renaissance master. The work of composer Alex Mills and librettist Brian Mullin, Leonardo focuses on the relationship between the great artist and two of his assistants.

Gian Giacomo Caprotti – known by Da Vinci as Salaí aka ‘Little Devil’ ­– was a boy from a poor background who entered the workshop aged 10 in 1490, when the master was in his late 30s. He immediately made an impression as a troublemaker: Mullin found frequent references to Salaí stealing from him and his guests, or eating more than his master thought respectable. “He [was] a young working-class boy, and evidently very hard to handle, but he ended up staying with Leonardo for 25 years,” says Mullin.

Gian Giacomo Caprotti, aka ‘Salai’ (left) and Francesco Melzi (right) were both assistants to Leonardo da Vinci (Credit: World History Archive/The Picture Art Collection/Alamy)

Francesco Melzi came into Leonardo’s life in around 1505. This young man, by contrast, was from a noble Milanese family, and developed a role in the workshop akin to private secretary. He and Leonardo soon developed a closer intimacy that Mills and Mullin liken to father and son. Melzi was, as Mullin notes, “completely different from Salaí in his social standing and his demeanour.” No cheeky nicknames for the aristocratic Melzi: he was addressed by Leonardo as ‘Master Francesco’. 

While Mills’s music for Leonardo is of course contemporary, it has been scored for a viol consort – that is, an ensemble of players of the viol, a stringed instrument evocative of the early 16th Century. Mullin’s libretto is drawn almost entirely from historical sources, most important of which were Leonardo’s own notebooks, which the left-handed artist wrote in mirror script.

The opera charts the “shifting triangle that Leonardo had with these two young men,” says Mullin. “Leonardo moves from one relationship to the other, and Salaí gets a bit pushed out.” Late in life Leonardo moved to France, with both male companions in attendance, but Salaí returned to Milan, and was not there at the master’s bedside when he died in 1519. “Leonardo leaves him very little: he’s left only half a vineyard, which is odd,” says Mullin. Melzi, by contrast, inherited Leonardo’s notebooks and many of his paintings. “It seems there was a private drama that had been playing out from one figure to another.”

As historic characters, Salaí and Melzi come down to us through Leonardo’s depictions of them in word and image – both men were noted for their beauty, and Salaí is thought to be the model for the paintings Bacchus and Saint John the Baptist. To both composer and librettist, the relationships appear to have been more intense and profound than simply artist and assistants. “Leonardo draws Salaí so much, it’s not hard to say he was a muse as well,” says Mills. “Everyone considers him to have been Leonardo’s companion – he buys him expensive clothes, they travel together, everyone talks about how beautiful he was.”

Salai is thought to have been the model for Da Vinci’s painting Saint John The Baptist (Credit: Dennis Hallinan / Alamy)

In negotiating their way through the hard facts of Da Vinci’s life – and the gaps between them – Mills and Mullin enlisted the help of leading scholars Martin Kemp and Martin Clayton. “We wanted the conclusions we were drawing to be as likely as possible and as historically accurate as possible,” says Mills. “Leonardo scholars and academics conclude he very likely was gay, everything points toward that – the opera gives us a chance to explore that part of him in a year when everything else is being explored.”

Speculation as to Leonardo’s sexuality is a centuries-old pastime. Writing in the 1560s, artist Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo concocted an imagined dialogue between Leonardo and the Greek sculptor Phidias, in which the latter quizzes him on the nature of his relationship with Salaí: “Did you perhaps play with him that ‘backside game’ that Florentines love so much?” Leonardo replies enthusiastically in the affirmative. In 1910, Sigmund Freud speculated that despite surrounding himself with beautiful young men, Leonardo’s homosexuality was latent rather than acted upon.

A recent biography by Walter Isaacson is more blithe in its summation of Leonardo as “illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical.” It is this vision of the artist in his younger days that will be brought to life in a TV drama staring Aidan Turner, scheduled for broadcast next year.

Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings at the Royal Collection Trust, first met with Mills and Mullin at an early stage of the opera’s development. “They presented this idea of Melzi and Saraí being the twin [aspects] of Leonardo’s character which I thought was a very intelligent approach,” says Clayton. “What they have done – in presenting Salaí as the dark, reprobate side and Melzi as the solid workmanlike side – says something very true of Leonardo’s character.”

Irish actor Aidan Turner is starring in a new TV drama series about Leonardo da Vinci which looks at his younger days (Credit: Getty Images)

For Clayton, Leonardo’s decision to leave Melzi his intellectual legacy – in the form of paintings, drawings and notebooks – is testament to his steadfastness. He judged Melzi capable of protecting his legacy, and of such wealth and character that he would not be tempted to exploit it. Salaí by contrast ended up in possession of more paintings than Leonardo left him, which suggests that he either stole or faked them. “He had a reputation as a chancer and a scammer,” says Mullin. “He ends up dying in a duel with a crossbow.”

While Da Vinci was a man ahead of his time in many ways, the nature of his companionship with Salaí was very much of its day. “Relationships like this between adult men and teenage boys were actually quite common in the world Leonardo moved in,” says Mullin. In the period Leonardo lived in Florence early in his career, homosexual relationships were so prevalent that the term ‘Florenzer’ became German slang for same-sex relationships. However in an attempt to control the practice, the city government encouraged citizens to denounce it. Aged 23, Leonardo was among four artists publicly accused of sodomy following an anonymous tip-off. “It is not known for certain if he went to jail,” says Mullin. “But that public shaming may have encouraged Leonardo to turn in on himself.”

The result of this inward gaze, Mills explains, is that “we don’t know much about Leonardo the man. In some ways it doesn’t matter what his sexuality was, but of course in trying to get into his mind it goes with the territory.” It is the particular quality of opera as an art form ­that it allows for much to be evoked while remaining unsaid. “That’s what opera is so good at doing: it speaks to the unconscious.”

For Clayton, who this year curated a series of exhibitions based on the Royal Collection’s outstanding holding of Leonardo drawings, the opera takes us into territory that is often beyond the scope of a museum. “It presents the true Leonardo in the way art exhibitions often don’t,” he says. An exhibition will naturally privilege drawings, paintings and diagrams over the 4,000 folios of written material left by Leonardo after his death. “There’s a great deal going on in Leonardo that is hard to put across to an audience, and I think that is what this opera will succeed in doing.”

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Was Leonardo da Vinci Gay?

Many historians believe that da Vinci was a homosexual: Florentine court records from 1476 show that da Vinci and four other young men were charged with sodomy, a crime punishable by exile or death.

After no witnesses showed up to testify against 24-year-old da Vinci, the charges were dropped, but his whereabouts went entirely undocumented for the following two years.

Several other famous Florentine artists were also known to have been homosexual, including DonatelloSandro Botticelli. Indeed, homosexuality was such a fact of artistic life in Renaissance Florence that the word „florenzer“ became German slang for “gay.”

What about Leonardo, the man? He was a vegetarian and openly gay, in an age when sodomy was a crime, and quite a dandy. Unpack these different aspects of his character.

He was gay, illegitimate, left handed, a bit of a heretic, but the good thing about Florence was that it was a very tolerant city in the 1470s. Leonardo would go around town wearing short, purple and pink outfits that were somewhat surprising to the people of Florence, but he was very popular. He had an enormous number of friends both in Florence and Milan. He records many dinners with close friends, who were a diverse group: mathematicians, architects, playwrights, engineers, and poets. That diversity helped shape him.

Finally, he was a very good-looking guy. If you look at “Vitruvian Man,” the guy standing nude in the circle and square, that’s largely a self-portrait of Leonardo with his flowing curls and well-proportioned body.

There was a well-known, and mutual, dislike between Leonardo and Michelangelo. Explain the animosity—and set the scene for what became a kind of painterly “high noon” between them.

Leonardo and Michelangelo were very different. Leonardo was popular, sociable, and comfortable with all his eccentricities, including being gay. Michelangelo was also gay but deeply felt the agony and the ecstasy of his identity. He also was very much of a recluse. He had no very close friends, wore dark clothes, so they were polar opposites in look, style, and personality.

They were also very different in their art styles. Michelangelo painted as if he were a sculptor, using very sharp lines. Leonardo believed in sfumato, the blurring of lines, because he felt that was the way we actually see reality.

The rulers of Florence created a competition for both of them to paint battle scenes in the Council Hall. By that point, the rivalry had become bad.

Leonardo had voted to have Michelangelo’s statue of David hidden away in some arcade rather than placed in the middle of the plaza. Michelangelo had been publicly rude to Leonardo. All of this had caused a certain electricity, so the rulers of Florence pitted them against each other to do these two battle drawings.

In the end they both flinched, quitting before they finished the paintings. Then Leonardo moved back to Milan and Michelangelo moved to Rome to work on the Sistine Chapel.

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During the Renaissance he dabbled in invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography.

The artist left no clue as to his own sexuality. He never married and it cannot be stated with certainty that he had a sexually intimate relationship with any person, male or female. 

One to watch: Aidan plays Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci in the new series, which is set to explore the life of the painter

Mystery man: It has long been claimed Da Vinci was in a gay relationship with his apprentice, Salai. It has not been made clear if the co-star Aidan is pictured kissing depicts Salai

Despite this, speculation over his sexuality has been long debated, and it has long been claimed that he was in a same-sex relationship with his apprentice, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, better known by his nickname Salai.

Caprotti is thought to have entered Da Vinci’s household when he was around 10 years old, and worked as his assistant for the next 20 years acquiring the nickname Salai, or Little Devil.

One to watch: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Leonardo will ‚unlock the mystery‘ behind Da Vinci’s genius as well as explore a tantalising secret in his life

Delightful duo: In the series, Aidan stars alongside The Undoing’s Matilda De Angelis playing Da Vinci’s famous muse Caterina da Cremona

Art detective Silvano Vinceti has said the portrait, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris, is an amalgamation of a Florentine merchant’s wife and Da Vinci’s possible gay lover.

WHO WAS LEONARDO DA VINCI? 

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, more commonly Leonardo da Vinci or simply Leonardo, is one of the greatest individuals of the last millenium. 

The poly math was a driving force behind the Renaissance and dabbled in invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography.

He has been attributed with the development of the parachute, helicopter and tank. 

He was born in what is modern-day Italy in 1452 and died at the age of 67 in France. 

After being born out of wedlock the visionary worked in Milan, Rome, Bologna and Venice. 

His most recognisable works include the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, Vitruvian Man. 

Another piece of artwork, dubbed the Salvator Mundi, sold for a world record $450.3 million (£343 million) at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2017.

Vinceti, the head of a research group called the National Committee of Cultural Heritage, based his findings on an infra-red examination of the famous painting.

It was previously thought that the picture was based on Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a merchant from Tuscany.

It has not been made clear if the co-star Aidan is pictured kissing depicts Salai. 

In the series, Aidan stars alongside The Undoing’s Matilda De Angelis playing Da Vinci’s famous muse Caterina da Cremona, as well as Giancarlo Giannini playing artist Andrea del Verrocchio. 

Leonardo was created by The Man In The High Castle showrunner Frank Spotnitz and Sherlock writer Steve Thompson, the show will be directed by Daniel Percival and Alexis Sweet.

Speaking about the show, Frank, whose company Big Light Productions is co-producing the drama, admitted it was ‚both a challenge and an honour‘ to portray Da Vinci’s life on the silver screen.

In a statement, he said: ‚It’s both a challenge and an honour to dramatize the life of one of the most fascinating people who ever lived.

‚Leonardo is constantly surprising, and despite his fame remains an enigma more than 500 years after his death.

‚We’ve uncovered sometimes little-noticed clues about Leonardo’s life and pieced them together in a puzzle that attempts to reveal the humanity behind the genius.‘

While Luca Bernabei, CEO of Lux Vide who have produced the drama, added in his own statement: ‚Leonardo’s story invites us to believe in humanity, in its extraordinary abilities and the possibility of looking to the future beyond those horizons that today appear as overwhelming obstacles.‘

Leonardo will launch on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Ireland on Friday 16th April 2021. 

The new images come following claims Aidan secretly ‚married‘ girlfriend Caitlin Fitzgerald in a secret ceremony in Italy.

The Sun reports the actor tied the knot with American actress Caitlin, 38, as filming concluded on Leonardo back in August. 

The couple – who started dating in 2018 – were said to be eager to wed as soon as their schedules allowed but kept the ceremony quiet due to their private nature. 

Newlyweds: The new images come following claims Aidan secretly ‚married‘ girlfriend Caitlin Fitzgerald in a secret ceremony in Italy after filming Leonardo (pictured 2019)

A source said: ‚The couple are both madly in love and couldn’t wait to get hitched when their schedules allowed.

‚They’re both very private and have kept the ceremony very much under wraps, but he has been seen taking lockdown walks with his wedding ring on show.

‚Aidan hasn’t been in a rush to get wed and has very much been waiting for ‚The One‘ to come along — and anyone who sees them knows they’re the perfect match.‘

MailOnline has contacted representatives for comment.

Aidan won fans all over the world with his portrayal of the hunky Ross Poldark in the iconic drama, alongside his love interest Eleanor Tomlinson.

The show concluded after five series in 2019 – with Aidan wowing fans with his brooding persona and hunky shirtless scything scenes.

Caitlin is best known for her role in US drama, Masters Of Sex from 2013-2016.

She played Libby Masters, the wife of sex therapist Dr William Masters, played by Michael Sheen – who she dated.

Wow: The star is best known for his portrayal of Ross Poldark in the iconic BBC drama – which ran from 2015-2019

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Leonardo Da Vinci’s probable gay lover, an art historian has claimed.

The famous portrait that hangs in the Louvre in Paris has undergone infra-red analysis to give the art world more insight into one of the world’s most renowned paintings.

Following his examinations, Silvano Vinceti believes the artwork is an amalgamation of two models: a rich Florentine merchant’s wife, Lisa Gherardini, and da Vinci’s apprentice Gian Giacomo Caprotti, known to the artist as Salai, or Little Devil.

“The Mona Lisa is androgynous – half man and half woman,” he told The Telegraph, explaining that he studied other paintings based on Salai and found striking similarities. “You see it particularly in Mona Lisa’s nose, her forehead and her smile. We’ve come up with an answer to a question that has divided scholars for years. Who was the Mona Lisa based on?”

By Kandice Rawlings

Leonardo da Vinci was born 562 years ago today, and we’re still fascinated with his life and work. It’s no real mystery why – he was an extraordinary person, a genius and a celebrity in his own lifetime. He left behind some remarkable artifacts in the form of paintings and writings and drawings on all manner of subjects. But there’s much about Leonardo we don’t know, making him susceptible to a number myths, theories, and entertaining but inaccurate representations in popular culture. The following are some of my favorites.

Leonardo’s possible homosexuality is one of the more prevalent – and more plausible – myths circulating about the artist, and has the backing of none other than Sigmund Freud. There’s no way of knowing Leonardo’s sexual orientation for sure, but he isn’t known to have had romantic relationships with any women, never married, and in 1476 was accused (but later cleared) of charges of sodomy – then a capital crime in Florence. Scholars’ opinions on the issue fall along a spectrum between “maybe” and “very probably”.

For all his skill, Leonardo was not a prolific painter – the major part of his surviving output is in the form of his notebooks filled with theoretical and scientific writings, notes, and drawings. His strange habit of writing backward in these notebooks has been used to perpetuate the image of the artist as a mysterious, secretive person. But in fact it’s much more likely that Leonardo wrote this way simply because he was left-handed, and found it easier to write across the page from right to left and in reverse. No decoding is necessary – just a mirror. Leonardo’s theoretical writings and other notes were preserved by his follower and heir Francesco Melzi, and were widely known, at least in artistic circles, during the 16th and 17th centuries. Published extracts began appearing in 1651.

I’d rather not get into all the problems with in Milan were made according to patrons’ requirements, with very specific Christian meanings to be conveyed. Despite Leonardo’s artistic innovations, the content of his religious paintings and portrayal of religious figures (with the exception of some details in an altarpiece from the 1480s) were not untraditional.

Martin Kemp has observed, “The silly season for the never closes.” The ridiculous theories about this painting abound. Here’s what we can say with reasonable certainty: Leonardo started the painting, probably a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, a merchant’s wife, while in Florence around 1503. For unknown reasons, he didn’t deliver it to the patron, however, and it ended up in the possession of his workshop assistant Salai (who some think was Leonardo’s lover – again, without evidence). There’s no reason to think that Leonardo recorded in this painting his own features or those of Salai, even if, as many art historians believe, he continued to work on the painting after he left Florence for Milan and then France. In a theory that deviates from the usual speculation about the identity of the sitter, an Italian scientist thinks that the way Leonardo portrayed the sitter shows she had high cholesterol. Right, because Renaissance paintings are straightforward, scientific images, pretty much just like MRIs and X-rays.

The Shroud of Turin is a relic purported to be the shroud that Christ’s body was buried in after the Crucifixion. According to its legend, the image of his body was miraculously transferred to the cloth when he was resurrected. The idea that Leonardo forged it depends on claims that the proportions of Christ’s face as depicted on the shroud match those in a drawing that is thought to be a self-portrait by the artist, and that Leonardo devised a photographic process that transferred the image of his face to the shroud. The fact that the shroud dates to at least the mid-14th century, a hundred years before Leonardo’s birth, just makes this already kooky theory even harder to buy. I’ll admit, though, that I haven’t read the whole book explaining it … and I’m not going to.

Vegetarianism would have been pretty unthinkable in Renaissance Italy (and veganism just plain absurd); people probably ate about as much meat as they could afford. The most commonly cited quote used to back up this claim is taken from a novel (see p. 227) and often misattributed to Leonardo himself. None of Leonardo’s own writings or early biographies mentions any unconventional eating habits. There’s really only one documentary source that might be relevant, a letter written by a of the artist, who compares Leonardo to people in India who don’t eat meat or allow others to harm living things. Pretty tenuous, but vegetarians love to claim him.

It’s true that Leonardo was fascinated with mechanics, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, flight, and military engineering, which he touted in his famous Ludovico Sforza seeking a position at the court of Milan. Leonardo’s notebooks contain many designs for machines and devices related to these explorations. But these were, for the most part, probably not ideas that Leonardo considered thoroughly enough to actually build and demonstrate. In the case of the bicycle, the drawing was likely made by someone else, and might even be a modern forgery.

While it sounds nutty, this one’s not so far off the mark, if you consider automatons – mechanical devices that seem to move on their own – to be robots. In a plot line of the cable fantasy drama Da Vinci’s Demons, Leonardo constructs a flying mechanical bird to dazzle the crowds gathered in the Cathedral piazza for Easter. A reliable historical record instead points to a lion that Leonardo made for the King of France’s triumphal entry into Milan in 1509. One observer’s description reads:

If you’re interested in learning more about Leonardo, including the current locations of his works, read his biographyBenezit Dictionary of Artists, or, for a longer treatment, pick up the accessible but smart book by leading expert Martin Kemp.

Kandice Rawlings is Associate Editor of Oxford Art Online and the Benezit Dictionary of Artists. She holds a PhD in art history from Rutgers University.

Oxford Art Online offers access to the most authoritative, inclusive, and easily searchable online art resources available today. Through a single, elegant gateway users can access — and simultaneously cross-search — an expanding range of Oxford’s acclaimed art reference works: Grove Art Online, the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, The Oxford Companion to Western Art, and The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, as well as many specially commissioned articles and bibliographies available exclusively online.

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