No, we're not saying Leonardo Da Vinci was gay. We don't know if Leonardo was gay. Frankly, it's none of our business who (if anyone) or what (if anything) titillated Leonardo's libido 500 years after the fact, but let's give those who do care some information.
Smarter people 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, 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.
'The Da Vinci Code' Version
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.
Rumors During Da Vinci's Lifetime
Da Vinci 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. Da Vinci was anonymously accused, and it's quite tempting to speculate that the accuser was a lesser-talented artist.
Da Vinci's Works and Personal Life
Leonardo Da Vinci 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 Da Vinci 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.
Sources and 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.