Bibbiena’s Closet: Interpretation and the Sexual Culture of a Renaissance Papal Court

  • Michael Wyatt
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


In his 1697 Dictionnaire Historique et Chronique—a large portion of which, in Craig Brush’s words, “is devoted to the investigation and certification of facts”1—Pierre Bayle makes the following observation about the occasion of Giovanni de’ Medici’s election as Pope Leo X in 1513: “Nothing contributed more to his elevation to the papacy, than the wounds he had earlier received in Venerean combat.”2 Leo’s nineteenth-century English biographer William Roscoe, outraged at Bayle’s assertion, accused him of manipulating his sources—Pierre Varillas’s 1685 Les Anecdotes de Florence ou L’Histoire Secrete de la Maison des Medicis, and Viet Ludwig von Seckendorf’s 1692 Commentarius historicus et apologeticus de lutheranismo—for partisan Protestant motives.3 But Bayle foresaw this line of criticism and makes a point, which Roscoe neglects to note, of also citing Catholic historians and commentators in substantiation of his assertion. Roscoe’s dismissal of Bayle’s allegation of the newly elected pope’s preceding sexual adventures also fails to take fully into account Bayle’s own extended footnote to the controversial phrase, in which he gingerly distances himself from claiming authoritative evidence in the matter. Roscoe fails as well to mention a similar case in Bayle’s Dictionnaire, which sheds some light on his treatment of Leo.


Sexual Politics Sexual Culture Papal Court Exhaustive Reading Renaissance Culture 
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  1. 1.
    Craig B. Brush, Montaigne and Bayle, Variations on the Theme of Scepticism (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966), p. 252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    See William Roscoe, The Life and Pontificate of Leo X (Philadelphia: Lorenzo Press, 1806), vol. 2, pp. 202–04.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Ingrid Rowland, The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 240.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Paolo Giovio, In vitam leoni decimi in Opera VI, Vitarum (Rome: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 1987), p. 95.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    Michael J. Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    See Valerie Traub, “Desire and the Differences it Makes” in: The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 81–114.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    For other significant work on sexuality in the period relevant to this essay, see James M. Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986), “ ‘A Veil of Ice between My Heart and Fire’: Michelangelo’s Sexual Identity and Early Modern Constructs of Homosexuality,” Genders 2 (Summer 1988), pp. 77–90,Google Scholar
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    Alan Stewart, Close Readers: Humanism and Sodomy in Early Modern England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  10. 25.
    Baldassarre Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano, ed. Ettore Bonora (Milan: Mursia, 1972), II.xlv. I quote from the translation of Thomas Hoby, The Book of the Courtier (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1928), p. 137.Google Scholar
  11. 36.
    Redig de Campos, pp. 238–39, and see pp. 239–40 for his argument in support of Raphael as the principal designer of the Stufetta ’s decorative scheme. Redig de Campos feels that Raphael may have also been responsible for painting several of the the panels, particularly Venus and Amor (the second of the series and widely regarded as the most refined of the surviving six frescoes), as well as some of the imitative Roman antique detail elsewhere in the space, the remaining work left primarily to Giulio Romano and Giovanni da Udine. For the best discussion of the architectural plan of the space, see Stefano Roy, “La Stufetta del Cardinal Bibbiena” in: Raffaello architetto: linguaggio artistico e ideologia nel Rinascimento romano (Rome: Editori Laterza, 1974), pp. 160–64.Google Scholar
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    Water issued from the satyr’s mouth in the bottom half of the north wall into a free-standing tub; see Heikki Malme, “La Stufetta del Cardinal Bibbiena e l’iconografia dei suoi affreschi principali,” in: Quando gli Dei si spogliano: Il bagno di Clemente VII a Castel sant’Angelo e le altre stufe romane del primo cinquecento (Rome: Romana Società Editrice, 1984), p. 34, and Redig de Campos, p. 225.Google Scholar

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© Gary P. Cestaro 2004

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  • Michael Wyatt

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