Picturing Same-Sex Desire: The Falconer and His Lover in Images by Petrus Christus and the Housebook Master

  • Diane Wolfthal
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter will explore two previously unrecognized images of same-sex desire, Petrus Christus’s Couple in a Goldsmith’s Shop and the Housebook Master’s Falconer, which both employ the falcon as a sign of love (figures 1.1 and 1.8).1 These works have never been satisfactorily explained. Much has been written about the Goldsmith’s Shop, a canonical work within the field of northern renaissance art, but the literature is characterized by uncertainty, debate, and contradiction, precisely because no one has been able to make sense of the mysterious male couple depicted in the mirror in the right foreground (figure 1.2). The Falconer is less well known, but the few studies that discuss the print dismiss it too easily, thereby misinterpreting it. Both works are part of a complex cultural history of sexuality that is just now being written, which explores the conceptualization of heterosexual and homosexual desire, and shows how they became constructed as opposites in the West, with one defined as the norm and the other as deviance.2 Furthermore, these images demonstrate that love between men is implicated in the history of marriage, an institution that became the privileged site of heterosexuality. Yet these works also reveal that although some images reinforce the idea of sodomy as sin, others, to quote Jacqueline Murray, “extend beyond a litany of prohibitions and condemnations.”3


Male Couple National Gallery Metropolitan Museum Homosexual Desire Courtly Love 
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© Emma Campbell and Robert Mills 2004

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  • Diane Wolfthal

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