Steve Thompson (Sherlock) and Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) are teaming up for an eight-part series about the life and work of famed polymath Leonardo da Vinci — and it’s gonna be queer.
The series, Leonardo, is a collaboration between Spotnitz’s company, Big Light Productions, and Lux Vide, and it will be released via The Alliance, which is a co-production company formed by RAI, France Télévisions and Zdf, public television companies from Italy, France, and Germany, respectively.
Eleonora Andreatta, head of Drama at RAI productions, told Variety that Leonardo will be an exploration of the artist’s work, and his inspiration for specific pieces, as seen through the eyes of Caterina, a young model who works closely with him. In addition, Andreatta makes it a point to stress that da Vinci’s personal life will definitely be prominently featured.
“He was a real outsider for those times. He was an illegitimate child, gay, vegetarian and left-handed,” Andreatta says. “The personal and adventurous aspects of his life prevail over the purely artistic ones.”
While the series is yet to even be cast, the premise already sounds more promising than previous attempts to chronicle the celebrated artist’s life. Da Vinci’s Demons for example, the Starz production that ran for three seasons between 2013 and 2015, and which portrayed da Vinci as a lady-loving playboy, chose to completely ignore his homosexuality, save for an episode that briefly addressed da Vinci’s run-in with the law, when he was charged with sodomy.
Aside from one solemn goodbye kiss, the series failed to depict any other relationships or encounters that weren’t with women, a choice that showrunner David S. Goyer defended by stating that the creative choice was made in order to avoid “gratuitous content.”
Da Vinci’s Demons’ interpreted da Vinci as a bisexual man, and this was the argument made through the series’ short run to excuse the lack of male partners. And that, my friends, is what we call erasure.
Da Vinci’s sexual orientation is often debated among historians; some describe him as bisexual, while others regard him as a gay man, and this is due to the fact that despite the artist’s extensive writings still in existence, there are no direct mentions of his romantic life, though that might have a lot to do with the fact that being gay was illegal in late 1400’s Italy and keeping a diary wasn’t a common practice amongst queer people of the time.
There are plenty of accounts touching on Leonardo da Vinci’s lack of female friendships, however, or even acquaintances outside of models he worked with. In 1476, he was charged with sodomy, a crime punishable by death at the time, and while the charges did not stick, it scared him enough that he left his home in Florence for Milan, where he painted The Last Supper, arguably the most famous fresco in the world.
Before and after the sodomy charges, da Vinci was known to have only ever lived with male acquaintances and apprentices. In fact, one such close friend was the one to alert the da Vinci family of the painter’s death, but maybe they were just roommates.
Leonardo will begin production soon, as its release is slated to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the artist and inventor’s death next year.
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