Mythology and masculinity : a study of gender, sexuality and identity in the art of the Italian Renaissance
The concerns of this thesis are aligned with approaches to the historical study of sexuality, gender and identity in art, society and culture which are increasingly articulate and questioning at present. However, it is distinct from these recent studies because it redirects attention toward a stimulating encounter with the past through new theoretical proposals and interpretive perspectives on the manner in which mythology asserts itself as the vehicle for expressing male same-sex erotic behaviour, gender performance and masculine identity in the visual culture of the Italian Renaissance. By following a methodological, historiographical and interdisciplinary mode of enquiry, this thesis formulates and expresses new perspectives which engage with the representation of masculine concerns relating to these historically specific matters in the visual domain of the period. Conventional historical definitions of traditional art historical models of masculinity are also called into question through reassessment of how the function of the ideal male nude body in Renaissance art was shaped by particular social and historical contexts in different regions of Italy during the sixteenth century. These interrelated themes are approached in three stages.\ud \ud Firstly, there is interpretation of the complex and convoluted meanings within the narrative of the mythic sources, as well as decoding and contextualising of the symbolic messages of the images in question. Secondly, I assemble and examine the textual evidence that exists about erotic and social relationships between males in the Renaissance so that their historical significance can be tracked and placed in the context of the tension which existed between Renaissance Italian judicial and religious proscription and commonplace behaviour. And thirdly, I offer comprehensive analyses and interpretive frameworks which are informed by and based upon a wide range of written as well as visual sources together with evaluation of competing theoretical perceptions. The main arguments are presented in three chapters:\ud \ud The central theme of Chapter One is gender performance with specific focus upon the integral and didactic role of pederasty in visual representations of myths which conflate erotic desire between males and philosophical allegory. The historical phenomenon of pederastic relationships between males is addressed through interrogation of the pictorial vocabulary of Benvenuto Cellini’s marble Apollo and Hyacinth (1545), and Giulio Romano’s drawing of Apollo and Cyparissus (1524).The arguments and theories discussed and analysed in Chapter Two deal with Michelangelo’s depiction of Ovidian mythic narratives. Here, close attention is paid to the intricate nuances and sophisticated iconography used by Michelangelo for three highly finished presentation drawings - The Rape of Ganymede (1532), The Punishment of Tityus (1532) and The Fall of Phaeton (1533) - which Michelangelo presented to Tommaso De’ Cavalieri. The chapter aims to encourage a re-evaluation of these three drawings as a meaningful and connected narrative endowed with significant cultural and personal significance relating to their creator’s anguish about physical desire and its relationship to what modernity terms as ‘sexuality’. In Chapter Three, I consider how several works featuring the theme of Apollo flaying Marsyas can be read as articulations of the imaginative and ideological structures of the formation and preservation of masculine identities. The chapter addresses the iconographic visibility of the theme of flaying and explores the philosophical and literary metaphoric significance of this myth. Primacy is given to destabilising dominant conceptualizations of the heroic male nude as a subject in art throughout all these selected case studies. Centred as they are on sexual attraction or destruction rather than idealisation of the male figure, these chapters offer a revaluation of ways of seeing the archetypal heroic nude in a myriad of ways.
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