Gay and Ginger? You're in Genius Company, Study Suggests

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday October 14, 2019

A new study suggests that Leonardo da Vinci stood out in his own time as he does today - but not for his scientific or artistic genius; rather, da Vinci, the study indicates, was the butt of jokes because he had red hair (very uncommon at the time). Also, indications are that he was gay.

The new study - due for publication this week - examines new evidence that da Vinci was known to be gay and widely mocked for having been a ginger, reports UK newspaper The Guardian.

The forthcoming publication, titled "Leonardo da Vinci and the Book of Doom," is the work of Simon Hewitt, who has brought to light a previously unknown illustration that he says is intended to make fun of the Renaissance genius.

Reports The Guardian:

Author Simon Hewitt has unearthed a little-studied image held in Germany, a "comic strip" design made in 1495 to illustrate a poem, that showed how Leonardo was once ridiculed. In one of its colorful images, An Allegory of Justice, a ginger-haired clerk, or court lawyer, is shown seated at a desk, mesmerized by other young men, and represents Leonardo da Vinci.

"The identity of Leonardo as the red-headed scribe is totally new," Hewitt is quoted as having told the media. "The comic-strip picture is in an obscure manuscript in Berlin and has never been consulted before by any Leonardo scholar."

The article goes on to say, "Red-headedness was rare in 15th-century Milan, but not unknown, and was regarded as freakish." Furthermore, the Guardian article says, the illustration in question seemingly depicts de Vinci as having an "apparent fascination with a half-naked young man..."

The Brookhaven National Laboratory website includes a page about da Vinci's supposed homosexuality, which notes that when he was 24 da Vinci was assured of having had gay sex with a male prostitute - a charge that was never substantiated, and nothing came of it.

However, information at the page adds, da Vinci "had no relationships with women" and "never married," and adds that "he wrote in his notebooks that male-female intercourse disgusted him," and furthermore he "surrounded himself with beautiful young male assistants," including one man who stayed with da Vinci for two decades.

His having been gay has not entirely been forgotten, but that tidbit has faded into the background given da Vinci's prolific and ingenious work in art and science. da Vinci not only painted the Mona Lisa - which might well be the most famous painting in history - but he also conceptualized airplanes and helicopters, as well or many other scientific wonders, hundreds of years before the rest of the world caught up to his vision and technology made his musings possible.

While we in the 21st century can only wait for the day when our own contributions to society take precedence over the private matter of who we love and marry, contemporary gay gingers can, it would seem, find in da Vinci a further source of pride.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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