In the visual arts, as in literature, there appears an identifiable interest in the European Mediterranean of the classical, Renaissance and contemporary periods which is both cultural and homosexual, or at least homoerotic. 1 The neoclassical paintings and sculptures of the eighteenth century, the time of Winckelmann, often represented ancient society, occasionally including Greek love. 2 For instance, the work of the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) provided sensuous images of figures from classical mythology (as well as of contemporaries). Some of his sculptures, though not ‘homosexual’, nevertheless laud the beauty of the male—a statue of Theseus and the Minotaur, from the early 1780s, inspired by Greek myth and imbued with Winckelmann’s aesthetics, is a smooth portrayal of male virility. 3 The Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen (1768-1844) was another sculptor who lived in Rome and carved a number of figures of erotically handsome men. They include sculptures of such classical figures as Jason, Adonis, Cupid and Mars, and Mercury. Thorvaldsen did at least three statues of Ganymede as well, two of a standing youth holding a cup, one of an ephebe kneeling before an eagle which drinks from his cup. Information on Thorvaldsen’s own sexual interests is lacking, but the choice of subjects and the portrayal are suggestive. 4
Rome was a gathering place for artists and sculptors from all over Europe who came to study classical and Renaissance art. Academic ideals and methods of learning art, including the drawing of live models, encouraged interest in the human body and anatomical precision, and the proximity of classical artefacts and old master paintings brought into view the handsome men, and sometimes homoerotic themes, of works by such artists as Michelangelo and Caravaggio. Canova and Thorvaldsen continued the tradition.
Perhaps the neoclassical painter whose work is most obviously homoerotic—although details of the painter’s own romantic and sexual life are vague—is Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824). Born into a bourgeois family in provincial France, Girodet studied under David and won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1789 for a painting of the Old Testament story