Updated: Jun 9
In the light of Pride Month, we will delve into the history of homosexuality during the Renaissance Era, in Florence, Italy.
The era of change brought an end to the Dark Ages. It brought light to new talent and carried culture to the arts. Artists were no longer starved by the lack of enthusiasm the population had at paying them for their efforts.
The Renaissance gave us a look at what people valued 300 years ago; portraits detailing how they wore their hair, what clothes were stylish, ideal body image etc. Artists unbeknownst documented history so well that even modern media seems inadequate by comparison. We were left with masterpieces that have, arguably, never been eclipsed, by the greatest of Italian Renaissance artists, such as; Leonardo Di Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello.
'David' by Michelangelo, one of the leading Renaissance artists.
However, in the midst of a artistic revolution, we as humanity failed miserably at inclusivity. Florence, seen by many as the heart of the Renaissance, was an extreme case of how change brings backfire and progression at the same time.
Throughout history, women have been oppressed and silenced, that is no secret. Even when it came to sexual orientation, women weren't taken seriously. For example, if a woman was a lesbian, she usually would not be convicted or even thought of as 'properly' gay. It was believed that if a woman had a 'deep relationship' with another woman, it was either 'practice' for when she were to get a husband, or simply a very close friendship.
Italian men, on the other hand, were persecuted for their sexuality. Florence's homosexuals, while embracing their truest nature, were not perfect and had many issues.
For one, pedophilia was extremely prominent in the city. It was considered a normality among the gay population in Florence, for older men to take younger lovers. Whether this was to scare the younger lovers into secrecy, it is unknown.
In a book written by Michael Rooke, titled 'Forbidden Friendships', Rooke goes into detail describing how many convictions and allegations were made against the gays during the Renaissance. Rooke estimates that out of the 40,000 people that lived in Florence, 17,000 were incriminated of acts of sodomy - as it were known in the time. This would mean that a near half the population were known to be gay. This goes on further as 12% of the male population stayed bachelors until the day they died.
These reports would not have been possible, were it not for the force of night-watch police, dubbed the 'The Office of The Night,' meant to catch rumored gays in the act. The creation of this police was encouraged by homophobic clergy and the reeling need for a higher population - due to the devastating toll that the Black Death had on Florence.
Rooke also states that many historians doubt that the high prominence of same-sex intimacy was a result of homosexuality, but more 'a pervasive part of the drinking, gambling and open sexuality of single male culture.' Rooke, however, goes on to disprove this theory, as he explains how men were commonly known to be in love with their secret lovers, and many are even known to have recognized official marriages to each other.
Despite the fact that many people throughout history have been killed for their sexuality, Florence wasn't big on killing their people, even those that didn't conform to their ideals. It is said that a friend of Niccolo Machiavelli's - a popular Florentine philosopher - had confessed to him that if he had, "known my natural inclinations and ways, would have never tied me to a wife." It is also said that some men had homosexual marriages where they swore fidelity to one another while holding hands over the bible. It is also said that 'The Office of The Night', the very same organization that was set up to bring a godly fear against homosexuality, regarded these men as married to each other in the eyes of The Lord.
It is also stated that only around 3,000 of those accused of sodomy were actually convicted, and instead were charged with a fine that they were not bated into paying off. It is thought that only around 20% of the fines were fully paid throughout the rein of 'The Office of The Night' in Florence, which lasted two generations. This is speculated to be due to gay infiltration of 'The Office of The Night' but alas nothing is confirmed through documentation.
In conclusion Florence was a place where it wasn't seen as the devils deed to be gay or to have gay tendencies. Acceptance seems to have been extremely progressive and persecution and discrimination to have been loose and not very extreme. There are still many places in the world where being a homosexual is still illegal, but if there was hope for people 300 years ago then there is definitely hope for change now-a-days. While the struggle has been long, with people now and before facing hardships there may soon be a future where homophobia is but a mere myth.
Happy Pride everyone!