To include a fun biography of Leonardo da Vinci, my principal detective, I extensively researched his sexuality for my $2.99 e-book, A Borgia Daughter Dies.
Bottom line: he was either bisexual or heterosexual. For a quick, fun read about the period and da Vinci’s life, you can get A Borgia Daughter Dies here: Purchase at Amazon ($2.99) . The controversy over his sexuality is so fascinating that it forms the historical backdrop for my next book, tentatively titled Da Vinci Detects, available through Amazon and maryannphilip.com sometime this summer.
A quick summary of the controversy: the historians who say da Vinci was gay universally accuse him of pedophilia of the worst sort: the only male pointed to as his sexual partner was eleven years old when he became da Vinci’s apprentice. (Da Vinci was 38.) This was not a story I wanted to believe, much less tell. But I wanted my book to include a story, based on contemporaneous rumors, that Leonardo loved a widowed duchess who some think was the model for the Mona Lisa. Without solid evidence he was bi or heterosexual, though, I would have ignored his sexuality completely, to avoid labeling him a pedophile. (He had many young apprentices, including this eleven year old, none of whom ever accused him of anything inappropriate, as far as we know.)
Why is da Vinci portrayed as a homosexual pedophile, if the evidence shows he was either bisexual or heterosexual? Simplified answer: because, with three other men and a juvenile, he was anonymously accused and publicly arrested by the Night Office, the diabolical Florentine institution whose sole function was to persecute and prosecute alleged gays. All five were arrested without evidence (the conclusory accusation gave no facts, nor any explanation of how the accuser knew the intimate secrets of five males). All five were released for lack of evidence, a rare thing considering how the Night Office functioned. But the public arrest labeled them for life.
Contrast this with the evidence that he was heterosexual: an admission in his writings that he had sex (he uses the rude term) with at least one woman, a courtesan contemporareously rumored to be his mistress, who is recorded as a member of his household for a period of time.
About the Office of the Night: during da Vinci’s lifetime, over half of Florentine men were accused of homosexuality; two thirds by the time they were forty. (These statistics come from a scholar who computerized the records of the Night Office and compared them with a thorough Florentine census from Leonardo’s time.) The procedures of the Night Office–perfectly normal at the time–included at least twelve violations of current American constitutional norms. Among the most basic: they investigated people after they arrested them, and sometimes resorted to torture.
More facts: Da Vinci was undoubtedly close to the eleven year old, who is a character in both my books. The question historians debate is whether the child was his “boy toy” or his adopted son. Abundant circumstancial evidence, as I see it, points to the boy as an adopted child.
And finally: the first man to accuse da Vinci of abusing this boy was almost assuredly a pedophile himself, with obvious ulterior motives for his accusation, made long after da Vinci died. Yet because his accuser belongs to the next generation of painters, art historians have tended to accept his accusation, though he never knew da Vinci or anyone who did. (They seem to view a few decades difference as nothing. I am a lawyer and ex-litigator, When someone is accused of a crime like pedophilia, I want to see admissions by the accused or testimony from a victim or witnesses. In da Vinci’s case, none exists that I have found.)
After I bring out Da Vinci Detects, I will do a podcast that discusses the controversy surrounding his sexuality and incudes some interesting pornography, some of which da Vinci drew and some he didn’t. Look for it this summer at maryannphilip.com.
Given that he is accused of pedophilia–universally a crime even today–shouldn’t we give da Vinci the benefit of the doubt?