Oscar Wilde Tours https://www.oscarwildetours.com Traveling Through Gay History Fri, 04 Aug 2017 07:34:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Italian gay history and art on gay Italy tour https://www.oscarwildetours.com/italian-gay-history-art/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/italian-gay-history-art/#respond Thu, 03 Aug 2017 03:58:37 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4916 The ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans—think of Julius Caesar and Nero, etc.—plus all those Renaissance artists—Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio:  did it ever occur to you how much Italian gay history and art there is?  Well, let us tell you:  Italy not only has some of the most beautiful cities, the most great art, one […]

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The ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans—think of Julius Caesar and Nero, etc.—plus all those Renaissance artists—Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio:  did it ever occur to you how much Italian gay history and art there is?  Well, let us tell you:  Italy not only has some of the most beautiful cities, the most great art, one of the world’s top cuisines, some of the cutest guys.  It also has one of the most fascinating, long, and varied *gay* histories, from the ancient Greeks to the Etruscans and Romans to the Italian Renaissance, to modern gay greats like Pasolini, Versace, and Valentino. And there are great monuments and works of art connected with every period of it, which you can easily see on a trip to Italy, if you know where to look.

And that is why we designed our Gay Italy tour: to show you this glorious country, while making sure you don’t miss the gay side of it all.  We show you the gay history hiding in plain sight in the major tourists spots.  For instance, on the great Arch of Constantine, right next to the Colosseum, there are images of Emperor Hadrian out hunting with his boytoy Antinous (see my blog post for the Gay and Lesbian Review:  http://www.glreview.org/antinous-the-gay-god/). And in the lupanar (bordello) in Pompeii, we point out the gay graffiti (which is what I’m doing in the cover image to this blog post).

Italian gay history and art

Michelangelo’s David

We also explain the gay connections in other places, where you might guess at them but not be able to put them together.  For instance, we point out how sexy Donatello’s David is and tell you about the intense culture of male-male love in Renaissance Florence that formed its context. And what about Michelangelo’s David? We will explain how Michelangelo’s statue proposed a different, new model of the hero—and of the attractive guy.

 

And we also take you to some lesser known sight connected to gay history.  For instance, when we go to Paestum, to see some of the best preserved ancient *Greek* temples, we stop in the museum to see the Tomb of the Diver, the only remaining example of Ancient Greek wall painting, which contains a scene of male-male courtship, in the Ancient Greek style. Also, while we are on Capri, we take a walk all the way out to the fascinating Villa Lysis—the one place that still speaks to us of the days in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Capri was Europe’s arty gay beach resort.

Villa Lysis--Italian gay history and art

Oscar Wilde tour group at Villa Lysis

The Villa was built by a wealthy French poet who had been arrested in France for organizing nude tableaux vivants with boys from elite Paris high schools (!).  He retired to Capri, where he built this amazing art nouveau villa, where he lived with his boyfriend—a model for early nude male photos—until he committed suicide in the chicest manner possible, by drinking cocaine dissolved in champagne. And the Villa also has an amazing view, as you can see in this photo of one of our Italy tour groups, posed where in old photos there was a nude statue of the boyfriend.

In short, we will show you Italian gay history and art that you might not even have imagined was there! And of course there will be lots of great art, fabulous cuisine, lovely hotels, and if you’re lucky, cute guys….

 

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Paris Gay History and Art Tour https://www.oscarwildetours.com/paris-gay-history-and-art-tour/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/paris-gay-history-and-art-tour/#respond Fri, 14 Apr 2017 01:34:29 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4816 Everybody knows that Paris is a fantastic city to visit, with fascinating historic neighborhoods, amazing museums, fabulous shopping, and of course spectacular food. But many people seem not to realize that Paris is also one of the greatest cities of gay history. But so it is: I think Paris has so many other great sides […]

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Everybody knows that Paris is a fantastic city to visit, with fascinating historic neighborhoods, amazing museums, fabulous shopping, and of course spectacular food. But many people seem not to realize that Paris is also one of the greatest cities of gay history. But so it is: I think Paris has so many other great sides that people almost overlook this one.  France was the first modern country to decriminalize homosexuality—in 1798, almost 2 centuries before the US. And from that time on, it was a relatively free city for gay life, and gay themes appeared more and more openly in French culture. This is why there are so many great gay writers in French literature, including names like Proust, Cocteau, and Colette. It is also why so many gay writers from English-speaking countries spent large parts of their lives there, including Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, and James Baldwin. And it’s why Out Professionals and Oscar Wilde Tours have chosen to launch our collaboration with a Paris gay history and art tour.

Gay Palaces

Louis XIV's Gay Brother--Paris Gay History and Art

“Monsieur,” Louis XIV’s Gay Brother

In fact, gay history is a great theme to follow around Paris, a good theme to organize a short visit around—or at least, another fun thing to add into the mix of interests that guide you around the city (along with the search for the best baguette, for instance). There are lots of places where you can follow gay history’s trail. Across from the Louvre, for instance, the Palais-Royal has a lot of gay history. Among other things, it was the Paris residence of Louis XIV’s gay (or perhaps bi) and gender-bending younger brother Philippe I, Duc d’Orléans (generally known simply as ‘Monsieur’); it is also here that Colette lived for the last 2 decades of her life and produced her most interesting writing about lesbians (The Pure and the Impure) as well as her best book on her other favorite theme, courtesans, Gigi.

But there are two places in Paris that, in my view, make for the richest gay history experience: the Louvre museum and Père Lachaise cemetery. Both are of course fabulous for many reasons, but both are also overwhelming, and (as at the Met in New York) following gay themes gives you a nice way to organize a visit, taking you to some of the most important sights and also a few less known but interesting ones.

Gay Tombs

Cambacérès's tomb--Paris Gay History and Art

Cambacérès’s tomb at Père Lachaise cemetery

I suppose I should say a few extra words about Père Lachaise, because it’s a little out of the way, and many people don’t get there until they’ve been in Paris a number of times. But it really shouldn’t be missed. First of all, it is a very charming old cemetery and has wonderful views of Paris (because a large part of it is on a hill). It also contains the graves of an amazing variety of people. Whatever you’re interested in, you can find people that matter to you at Père Lachaise. For opera queens, for instance, there are the graves of Rossini, Bellini, and Maria Callas (also Edith Piaf!). But gay history is really prominent, as Oscar Wilde is probably the cemetery’s most famous denizen (aside from Jim Morrison?).  And it is also quite well-known that Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas’ joint tomb is there. But there is plenty more, including Proust and Colette, also Rosa Bonheur—whom people who have taken my tour of the Met will recognize—and many more. Just as one example: Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès. There’s a name I imagine none of my readers will know, but he’s an important man. He is to some extent the father of gay liberation. Cambacérès was a gay aristocrat who survived the Revolution and became second consul under Napoleon. He was one of the key authors of the Code Napoléon—the law code that forms the basis for French law today as well as law in many other European countries—and it is generally believed that he is responsible for the fact that the Code followed the Revolutionary law code in leaving out homosexuality, while many others wanted laws against sodomy to be reintroduced.

CELEBRATE LGBT HISTORY AND ART ON THIS EXCLUSIVE OUT PROFESSIONALS TOUR OF PARIS AND THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE. Click The Image For More Details.

Gay Art Museum

Da Vinci's St. John the Baptist--Paris Gay History and Art

Da Vinci’s St. John the Baptist

The Louvre is also an astonishingly gay museum. This might be because it has such important collections from ancient Greece—where some kinds of same-sex love were considered praiseworthy—and ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance, where they were also at often smiled at. The Louvre’s massive Greek vase collection is particularly rich in homoerotic themes, as are its Roman and Italian collections. For instance, it has not one (like the Met) but four busts of Emperor Hadrian’s boy-toy Antinous, who was declared a god after his death. And it has homoerotic works by the two biggest Renaissance gay geniuses:  Michelangelo’s orgasmic-looking Dying Slave and Leonardo’s St. John the Baptist, portrayed as a sexy youth and modeled on Leonardo’s favorite (though difficult) assistant, a boy he nicknamed Salaì (little devil). Indeed, one should probably also include the Mona Lisa in this category, as some scholars think it was at least in part modeled on Salaì as well. But interestingly, the homoerotic side of the collection continues into later cultures, because there are a number of strikingly homoerotic works from Revolutionary and Napoleonic France—works in which the artists use the prestige of the Classical cultures to allow them to express homosexual interests. For instance, in the French sculpture collection, there is an 18th century sculpture of the gay couple from Virgil’s Aeneid. This is a fascinating work, because there was no ancient model: the 18th century sculptor was obviously so taken by their tale of heroism (in which one dies protecting the other—just the kind of story the Greeks and Romans loved) that he invented an ancient artistic model.  And in David’s vast canvas of the Spartans at Thermopylae (a battle people today know from the movie The Three Hundred), David puts in the kind of heroic couple so widely praised in ancient Greek literature, in which the younger man admires and encourages the military valor of his older lover. In short, the Louvre is an amazing place for gay history and art. Not that it isn’t amazing anyway, but it’s fun to have a secret trail to follow through such a vast collection, and (as is always true with gay themes in art museums) following it does not mean missing the highlights: it just means understanding them better!

To find out more about Paris gay history and art on our tour:  https://www.oscarwildetours.com/special-5-day-out-professionals-paris-tour/

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London is the gay history capital of 2017! https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-history-capital-2017/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-history-capital-2017/#respond Mon, 27 Feb 2017 00:09:19 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4646 In the next week, Oscar Wilde Tours will announce its Europe season for 2017, with Gay London/Gay Paris (August 14-22), followed by our first gay history tour of Amsterdam (August 22-25), and then our new Gay Gods and Heroes package, consisting of two back to back tours of the gay history and art of the […]

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In the next week, Oscar Wilde Tours will announce its Europe season for 2017, with Gay London/Gay Paris (August 14-22), followed by our first gay history tour of Amsterdam (August 22-25), and then our new Gay Gods and Heroes package, consisting of two back to back tours of the gay history and art of the Classical world:  Gay Greece, Homeland of Same-Sex Love (September 7-19) and Gay Italy, from Caesar to Michelangelo and Beyond (September 20-29).  There will be lots to tell when we make the announcement, including for instance our first visit to Northern Greece, where we will explore the life of that ultimate gay hero, King Alexander the Great.  But first I want to talk about what a great year it is for the Gay London/Gay Paris tour, because London is the gay history capital of 2017!

With the rise of anti-LGBT forces in the U.S. and the Brexit vote, you might think it was a bad moment for LGBT rights in the U.K.  But quite the opposite!  First of all, you should all know about a momentous event that took place 10 days ago in the U.K.  In 2013, Queen Elizabeth gave a posthumous royal pardon to the great hero Alan Turing (whose amazing life we learn about during the Gay London/Gay Paris tour on our excursion to Bletchley Park).  Shortly thereafter a campaign, led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Oscar Wilde Tours’ great patron Stephen Fry, started up to get a pardon for all the 75,000 men, living and dead, convicted for homosexuality in the U.K.  Many objections were raised, but on January 31, 2017, this pardon passed into law.  This will have many ramifications, particularly for victims who are still living, but for the moment, we want to point out that this pardon also applies to our patron spirit, Oscar Wilde.

But there is more.  2017 is also the 50th anniversary of the first law that decriminalized homosexuality in England and Wales.  Many of England’s cultural institutions have chosen to celebrate, so this is a banner year for gay history exhibits throughout England.  There are gay history exhibits in Liverpool and Manchester, a large exhibit at Benjamin Britten’s house in Aldeburgh about being gay in England in Britten’s time (under the gross indecency law), and special tours at many National Trust historic houses (about which our U.K. guide will tell us, as he is participating).

There will also be two major gay history exhibits in London this summer, one at Tate Britain, about gay British artists, and the other at the British Museum, about the history of same-sex desire through the many cultures reflected in the BM’s vast collections.  Our tour will include one of them, and give you the chance to see the other.  Our London tour always includes a stop at the BM, to see some of the museum’s most famous holdings—such as the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles—as well as its chief LGBT glories, the paired statues of the Roman emperor Hadrian and his lover Antinous, and the Warren cup, the marvelous Greco-Roman silver cup with male-male sex scenes on both sides.  This year, these pieces will be the center of an exhibit including pieces from such distant cultures as Classical Persia and Edo-period Japan.  We will take the time to see the exhibit thoroughly.  The show at Tate Britain will open with a moving object:  the door from Oscar Wilde’s cell, C-3-3, in Reading Gaol.  The show will focus on gay British artists such as Duncan Grant (about whom we will learn a great deal on Gay London/Gay Paris day 3, on our excursion to the Bloomsbury country retreat, Charleston Farmhouse) and David Hockney.  Our time in London includes a free afternoon, and those who want to see the Tate show will be able to go with Professor Lear to see it.

In short, London, Paris, and Amsterdam—the city of the first gay marriages!—are among the great gay cities, and they are always among the top places to visit to see the gay past.  Our London/Paris tour always includes a fascinating series of gay history and art tours, of places like Westminster Abbey, the National Portrait Gallery, Père Lachaise cemetery, and the Louvre.  But there has never been a year like this for a gay tour to London, so hope you will come enjoy the gay history capital tour in 2017!

Check it out:  https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-londongay-paris/

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2017 European Gay History Tours https://www.oscarwildetours.com/2017-european-gay-history-tours/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/2017-european-gay-history-tours/#respond Tue, 27 Dec 2016 06:25:20 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4483 Oscar Wilde Tours is just about to announce its new season of European gay history tours, with London, Paris, and Amsterdam in August, and tours (which can be combined) of Greece and Italy in September.  And as I plan them, the things that stick with me most are the fun new things that I discovered […]

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Oscar Wilde Tours is just about to announce its new season of European gay history tours, with London, Paris, and Amsterdam in August, and tours (which can be combined) of Greece and Italy in September.  And as I plan them, the things that stick with me most are the fun new things that I discovered this year or have added to the tour.

Gay London: the National Portrait Gallery

As always, the tour of the National Portrait Gallery in London is a highlight of our European season.  It’s a very active museum, and they often change their displays.  But the density of gay—or LGBTQQIA etc.—personalities is always so high that you could call it the British Queer Museum.  I always wonder why that is:  is British history really gayer than other countries’?  Given the tradition of bisexual carryings on in the British classes, it might be.  Or maybe it’s just an illusion, because we know more about British personalities.

In any case, there have been a lot of changes at the museum this year.  Edward II is no longer in the row of statues at the door of the permanent collection for instance.  So my tour will start with James I instead, and the dishy portrait of his “favorite,” George Villiers, whom he made the Duke of Buckingham.  Oh, and Shakespeare, our bisexual bard, is in the same gallery.  But there are also new gay faces on display.  For instance, there is a show about nude portraits, including a great portrait of Charles II’s wonderful mistress Nell Gwyn with her shirt open.  And several gay or bisexual people are there as well.  One will fit particularly well into our tour:  this portrait by Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s sister, of her lover Duncan Grant’s lover David “Bunny” Garnett, nude from the waist up.

gay history tours of England—the National Portrait Gallery

David Garnett by Vanessa Bell

The portrait is from World War I, when Grant and Garnett were working as farmhands as a pacifist alternative to the draft.  It portrays Garnett as an oversized, innocent child.  Perhaps he seemed that way to Bell, who was in her mid 30s, while he was only in his early 20s.

Yet what is most striking to me is the friendliness of the portrait:  not many people paint their lover’s lover at all, and certainly not many women could paint their male lover’s male lover in a positive light.  But that is perhaps typical of the Bloomsbury group, in which almost every member was involved in a bisexual love triangle.

They were breaking free of Victorian “straightness”—and I often think they had got farther away from it than we have today (and we see much evidence of this on this year’s gay history tours, particularly on our visit to their magical country group retreat, Charleston Farmhouse).

 

 

Gay Greece: the Royal Macedonian Tombs

Another novelty on this year’s tours is the royal Macedonian tombs at Vergina, in Northern Greece, which we have added to the tour, to bring ourselves closer to Alexander, one of the greatest of Antiquity’s gay heroes.  Amazingly, in 1977, archaeologists found the unplundered tomb of Alexander’s father, Phillip II, with one of the very few preserved ancient wall paintings and phenomenal golden grave goods.

gay history tours in Greece—the Macedonian royal tombs

Golden larnax and wreath of Philip II of Macedon at the Vergina museum

Phillip is not as widely famous as his son, nor was he as romantic or handsome.  But it was he who turned Macedon into a great military power and conquered (or “united”) Greece.  His same-sex loves follow the same pattern:  his gay side is not as famous as Alexander’s (maybe because Oliver Stone hasn’t made a movie about him!) but it was also prominent.

In fact, he was killed in the stadium at Vergina by a cast-off lover who was angry at him for not protecting him from humiliation (being gang-raped by his successor’s buddy’s slaves, actually!).  In short, there’s lots of great stuff to see, and lots of interesting stories to tell:  the days in northern Greece should be a delightful addition to our 2017 gay history tours!

Intrigued?  Check out our itineraries:  https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-londongay-paris/

and https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-greece-travel-tours/

and https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-italy/

If the details aren’t complete, they will be soon.  And feel free to contact us for more information at info@www.oscarwildetours.com or (646) 560-3205.  Come explore the gay heritage with Oscar Wilde Tours!

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The Gay Past vs. Modern Homophobia https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-past-vs-modern-homophobia/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-past-vs-modern-homophobia/#respond Sun, 29 May 2016 18:59:51 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4349 In a way, this blog post is a protest against Facebook and its homophobia. I am intentionally writing a post that I will not be able to treat as an ad on Facebook, because (as you may or may not know) Facebook will not allow companies to have any nudity in their ads—even the naked […]

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In a way, this blog post is a protest against Facebook and its homophobia. I am intentionally writing a post that I will not be able to treat as an ad on Facebook, because (as you may or may not know) Facebook will not allow companies to have any nudity in their ads—even the naked chest of a statue in the Metropolitan Museum. When I first started advertising on Facebook, they claimed that art was exempt, but it wasn’t, if my experience is any guide; now they don’t even claim it is. And yes, as you may already suspect, they are stricter about this when the subject is gay. I know that directly, because I also do tours that focus on courtesans and royal mistresses, and they seem to give my “straight” ads a little leeway. With my “gay” ads, we get none: they tell me (a professor selling history tours) that I cannot advertise ‘adult products’ on Facebook. An obvious case of homophobia—and there is no-one to appeal to.

Satyrs’ Phalli

But so long as I don’t want to use it as an ad on Facebook, on my blog I can show you all the obscene pictures I want–such as this one of the Oscar Wilde Tours gay history and art tour of Greece, posing in front of one of the row of phallus statues at the temple of Dionysus on Delos. I think these phallus statues are pretty interesting for a modern viewer. They are one of the things from the ancient world that no-one in the modern world would make: a row of statues of erect penises in front of a temple. I.e., they show us ancient attitudes very unlike our own, in this case the view of the erect penis as a talisman against the evil eye and a symbol of fertility. They also help us answer a question I keep being asked: why the penises in ancient Greek statue are generally smaller than average real penises. As I said to the last journalist who called for my expert opinion on this very important matter (http://qz.com/689617/why-do-greek-statues-have-such-small-penises/), not all penises in Greek art are small. The penises of heroes and athletes are small; the penises of Satyrs and orgiasts, i.e. the worshiper of Dionysus, are over-sized. Thus I think we can see that for the Greeks, penis size was symbolic: large ones symbolized wildness, small ones self-control. Again this is different from (if no sillier than) modern attitudes, and therefore interesting.

The statues also bring me back to the issue of modern prudishness. The phalli are probably the best known archaeological remain on Delos.   Yet when I went to look at them this spring, something amazing occurred to me: that I’m always alone when I go to look at them—though they are just fifty yards from the (excellent) Delos museum. What I realized is that the tours of Delos don’t include them! They spend three hours showing people Delos, take them all around the island, and leave out the most famous thing, because they are too prudish to talk about a phallic statue. And consequently most visitors never find them.

In fact, you might say this is why Oscar Wilde Tours exists: to bring the sex back into the story. And Greece is a place where the history of sex is particularly hidden behind a veil of Christian prudishness—even more so of course when the sex in question is same-sex.

gay history in Greece

Antinous at Delphi

Antinous

One of the passengers on our Greece tour told me about a great example of this. He and his partner wanted to buy a bust of Antinous, the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s boyfriend and a common subject in Roman art. They found one in the shop at our hotel in Delphi, where indeed there were also two photos of Delphi’s own statue of Antinous—probably the most beautiful of all images of him—in the lobby. Hadrian and Antinous’ relationship is extremely interesting. We know little about Antinous’ life, but after he died at 19 by falling (jumping?) into the Nile, Hadrian had him declared a god, and the large number (over 100!) of surviving images of him testifies to the success of this divinization. Here again of course the multi-faceted contrast with the modern world catches one’s attention, but I think this is interesting even in an ancient context, as no other Roman emperor gave a boyfriend such an important role in his public life (though many had one or more). I could go on about my theories, but it fits in with this post that despite the inherent interest of the relationship, and the relatively abundant evidence for it, there is almost no scholarship about it. And the Greeks…. Our hotel owner told my passenger the following: Antinous was Hadrian’s right-hand man (obviously untrue, since as the statue makes clear, he was an adolescent during their relationship); he committed suicide (which I regard as likely), but we don’t know why. Well, if he in fact committed suicide, I would argue that he probably did so because at 19 he was over the hill, by ancient Greek standards, even perhaps losing the emperor’s attention. The ancient Greeks customarily had relationships between adult men and adolescent boys, but these were supposed to end when the boy reached 18. This must have been a shock for the boy: if as a teenager you have got most of your adult approval from your adult lover, losing it at 18 can not have been easy. But a typical ancient Greek boy had many things to look forward to: coming of age ceremonies, years as a cadet, perhaps an early marriage—and eventually, a life as a citizen and soldier, with boy-loves of his own, and perhaps a life-long deep if non-sexual relationship with his former lover as well. But what of Antinous? The emperor’s boy could hardly go back to his city and become a cadet. What did he have to look forward to as a mature man?

Anyway, my point is just that modern Greeks have to lie about all of this, just as Facebook won’t let me put the gorgeous Delphi Antinous in an ad. Homophobia is still with us, in practical ways and in intellectual ways too. The gay past is constantly shoved under the rug and lied about, from Greek souvenir shops to American boardrooms. Which (again) is why Oscar Wilde Tours exists, to uncover the gay past, both because it’s simply interesting and because it validates same-sex relations in our own culture.  Interested in fighting against intellectual homophobia (while having fun)?  Check out our tours.  This year’s Greece tour is already over, but there are still gay history and art tours of London and Paris in August and Italy in October, plus tours of NY and the Metropolitan Museum.

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“Gay Paris” is one of the greatest gay cities https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-paris-a-great-gay-city/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-paris-a-great-gay-city/#respond Thu, 05 May 2016 03:10:27 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4317 Paris is of course one of the world’s greatest cities—above all, one of its great cultural cities, with literature and art and architecture and fashion and cuisine and so on and so forth.  But I think that Americans easily forget how great a gay city it is as well.  They don’t call it ‘Gay Paris’ […]

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Paris is of course one of the world’s greatest cities—above all, one of its great cultural cities, with literature and art and architecture and fashion and cuisine and so on and so forth.  But I think that Americans easily forget how great a gay city it is as well.  They don’t call it ‘Gay Paris’ for nothing!

Among other things, I think few people know that France eliminated its laws against sodomy in 1791, 212 years before the US Supreme court decided Lawrence v. Texas.  This is why (or part of why) so many American and English gay people, such as Oscar Wilde or James Baldwin, went to live in Paris in the 19th and 20th centuries.

But Paris generally has an amazing gay tradition, and the list of gay greats who have lived there is endless, including Frenchmen such as Proust, Jean Cocteau, Genet, and Yves Saint Laurent and expats from many lands, such as Diaghilev, Nijinsky, and Cole Porter.  It has a particularly fascinating lesbian history, with lesbian greats both French, such as Colette, and American, such as Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas.

So…just as is true with New York and London and Berlin, a gay history tour is a great way to visit gay Paris.  In fact, gay history is such an important theme in Parisian history that it leads you to and through the main neighborhoods and museums, showing you a fascinating and relatable side of the city that a normal tour or guidebook would simply ignore.

Great Gay Tombs

gay Paris

gay mystery tomb in Père Lachaise

Two of the best places for a gay history tour in Paris are the great monumental cemetery, Père Lachaise, and the Louvre Museum.  Any guidebook will tell you that Oscar Wilde is buried in Père Lachaise, and many will also mention Gertrude Stein (along of course with many famous straight people, such as Chopin or Edith Piaf).  But there are so many more tombs of famous gay and lesbian people, including Proust and Colette.  One of the things that I find most fascinating is the long history of gay couples buried together or close to each other—starting already in the Napoleonic period.  The tomb in this picture is an interesting example, or possible example:  it contains the remains of two Napoleonic generals, Louis Lemoine and Jean-Pierre Augereau.  Both died relatively late; neither ever married.  The inscription says, “here lie two ancient warriors, two friends, death separated them, death reunites them, glory is eternal, and friendship ends.”  A couple?  Impossible to say, of course—but given the reticence of the past and the suppression of evidence, that is typical of gay history.  An interesting mystery, in any case.  In the photo, you see one of our gay history walking tours.

Great Gay Art

The Louvre is also an amazing place to look for gay history.  In part, this is because it has such a great Greek and Roman collection—often the gayest part of any museum’s collection.  But the Louvre’s ancient collections are particularly gay, with a lavish collection of male-male courtship scenes in vase-painting, halls full of homoerotic Greek male nudes, and not one but four images of the Emperor Hadrian’s boyfriend Antinous, declared a god after his death (suicide?) at the age of 19 (see featured image).  There are over 100 ancient representations of Antinous left in the world, and most major museums have one.  But four?  Only the Louvre.

 

gay Paris

Leonardo St. John the Baptist

The Renaissance Italian collection is also particularly homoerotic, including one major homoerotic work by each of those gay superheroes, Michelangelo and Leonardo.  Leonardo’s is his surprisingly dishy St. John the Baptist, who appears more like a young pagan god than an ascetic saint and seems to have been modeled on a curly-haired young assistant with whom Leonardo was in love, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, whom Leonardo nicknamed Salaì (more or less ‘little devil’).  Of course the Louvre also contains the Mona Lisa, which many art historians believe was modeled on Salaì as well.  Michelangelo is represented by what is probably his most homoerotic work, the so-called Dying Slave:  a languid and effeminate male nude who seems to be not dying but in ecstasy instead.  Michelangelo has drawn here on the tradition of that most homoerotic saint, Saint Sebastian, and possibly also on his feelings about own erotic life, as he refers to himself in one of the sonnets addressed to his great love, Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, as a conquered, chained, and naked prisoner.

Gay Spartans

And there is much much more.  Again, as at the cemetery, the Napoleonic period provides a surprising amount of gay material. For instance, in a vast canvas representing the Spartans in the pass at Thermopylae, just to the side of the naked leader Leonidas, David places a little citation of ancient Greek sexuality, a naked adolescent boy snuggling up to his bearded lover.  This is just what probably took place in the pass at Thermopylae.  Even among Greeks, the Spartans were famous for their male-male relations, and many Greek writers associated this kind of male-male relationship with courage and loyalty in battle (see https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-heroes-of-ancient-greece/#more-3363).  But it is very rare for a modern representation of ancient Greece to represent such a scene explicitly.  In fact, I have listened to what French guides say about the painting, and they always say that it is a son with his father—but *no* Greek literary text says anything about sons and fathers encouraging each other to be courageous in battle, so that is probably not what David was thinking of.

Gaudard 4The Louvre, in short, is one of the greatest gay museums.  And there is lots of gay stuff to see elsewhere in Paris too, including the hotel where Oscar Wilde died, the café where James Baldwin wrote Giovanni’s Room, and so on and so forth!  To learn more, come on one of Oscar Wilde Tours’ gay Paris tours.  We are doing a combined tour of gay history and art (with of course our usual lovely 4 star hotels, great food etc.) in Paris and London (which if anything is even gayer!) August 20-28, and we are now offering a $400 discount on remaining seats!  Check it out at:  https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-londongay-paris/

 

 

 

 

 

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More Gay History in Europe: the Naples Archaeological Museum https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-history-naples-archaeological-museum/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-history-naples-archaeological-museum/#respond Tue, 05 Apr 2016 04:40:17 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4237 When Oscar Wilde Tours designs gay history tours, we always try to show people the gay side of famous places.  We do for instance “gay secrets” tours of Westminster Abbey, the Louvre, and the Vatican.  But we also try to take people to some places that are important in gay history and that they might […]

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When Oscar Wilde Tours designs gay history tours, we always try to show people the gay side of famous places.  We do for instance “gay secrets” tours of Westminster Abbey, the Louvre, and the Vatican.  But we also try to take people to some places that are important in gay history and that they might otherwise never think to visit.  Bletchley Park is an example, where Alan Turing (as in The Imitation Game) developed the machine that broke secret German codes in World War II and at the very least hastened the victory over Hitler.  Another of these places is the Naples Archaeological Museum.  Most people these days seem to skip Naples on their way from Rome to Pompeii (another place with great gay history), but Naples merits a stop for a number of reasons.  On our gay Italy tour, we spend 3 days exploring Naples and its surroundings (Pompeii, Paestum, Capri).

Original city of pizza

Naples

A Neapolitan pizza

First of all, as far as we know, the pizza was invented in Naples, and the greatest pizzerie are still there, in the old downtown, close to the Archaeological Museum.  It is said that Brandi’s first made what today we call pizza, but the best pizza in Naples today is probably to be found at Sorbillo and Di Matteo, both on the via dei Tribunali, the main drag of the old center.  Really, don’t miss it.  It will change your idea of pizza forever.

 

Great museum for ancient erotica

gay history in Naples

The god Priapus, fresco from Pompeii

But back to my topic.  The National Archaeological Museum is another reason not to skip Naples.  In fact, I would recommend going there *after* seeing Pompeii and/or Herculaneum, because it is in the museum that you can see the frescos, mosaics, etc. that were found in the buried cities.  Pompeii is fascinating, but its splendors are in this museum.  Probably the most famous part of the museum is the Museo Segreto—the section holding the museum’s erotica, which until the 60s was off limits to anyone but “men of mature age and respectable morals” but is now open to the public.  The Museo Segreto contains famous works, such as the double statue of the goat-god Pan having sex with a female goat—a statue that has shocked modern viewers since it was first discovered in the 18th century.  There are also a number of representations of the god Priapus, a garden scarecrow, who threatens thieves with rape with his oversized phallus.  Priapus threatens thieves of every age and gender (as we know from ancient Roman poems about him), but most of the erotica in the Museo Segreto, though certainly amusing, is either hetero-erotic or at least not specifically homoerotic.

 

Homoerotic statues galore

gay history in Greece

Gay Italy Tour Group with Harmodios and Aristogeiton

But things are different downstairs in the Farnese sculpture collection.  Here there are a number of homoerotic works.  One of these is the double statue of the great gay heroes of ancient Athens, Harmodius and Aristogeiton—the male-male couple who the Athenians considered the founders of the democracy.  This was one of the most important monuments in ancient Athens, and our best evidence for it comes from this set of copies, probably from a Roman villa by the then fashionable Bay of Naples.  Another is a gigantic statue of the Emperor Hadrian’s boyfriend Antinous, here portrayed as the god Bacchus:  the emperor had Antinous declared a god after his death, but perhaps because he was a new god, he was often worshiped in combination with other gods, in particular Bacchus.  Yet another is the one I used as the featured photo for this post:  the goat-god Pan, nuzzling the mythical goatherd Daphnis.  Pan is both bispecific and bisexual, so it is typical of him that we find him interested both in a she-goat and a handsome youth.  Pan is teaching his buddy how to play the Pan pipe, as you can see among other things from the way Daphnis demurely turns his head, it is certainly an erotic relationship as well….

Interested?  Check out our gay Italy tour:  http://bit.ly/1NmaovW.  It was a hit last year and should be even nicer this year (especially if you like good food…)

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Shady Ladies Tour, an intro https://www.oscarwildetours.com/shady-ladies-tour-intro/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/shady-ladies-tour-intro/#respond Fri, 18 Mar 2016 03:42:52 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4221 People often ask how I went from doing gay secrets tours to shady ladies. How did a gay historian get interested in the history of female prostitution? First of all, a gay historian works on the history of sexuality, so the history of heterosexuality is not very far away from his topic, intellectually speaking. But […]

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People often ask how I went from doing gay secrets tours to shady ladies. How did a gay historian get interested in the history of female prostitution? First of all, a gay historian works on the history of sexuality, so the history of heterosexuality is not very far away from his topic, intellectually speaking. But it has much more to do with my tours of the Metropolitan Museum.

To find the works of LGBT interest in the Met, you have to know what you’re looking for: it’s like following a secret trail through hostile territory. But while you’re following it, you see a lot of works focusing on various kinds of prostitutes or scandalous women, including of course some very noticeable nudes.

Courbet’s Courtesan

For instance, on the way to the 19th century French Lesbian artist Rosa Bonheur’s self-portrait, my groups pass the unbelievably lascivious nude above. Sometimes I get the feeling that people don’t understand why I call her lascivious, but if you think about it, what is she meant to be doing? To put it simply, she’s lying on her back, playing with a *bird*—a symbol of male sexuality.  And as Dr. Ruth pointed out when she took my tour, she’s also clearly sexually aroused: she’s flushed, and her nipples are erect.

Interestingly, in 19th century France, this was not regarded as a scandalous painting. An oversexed woman in a luxurious setting was clearly a courtesan, and courtesans (called demimondaines, cocottes, etc.) were an accepted part of French life at the time. There was nothing scandalous about a sexually aroused courtesan, so long as you didn’t portray her too realistically. This painting idealizes the female form, or as we would say ‘airbrushes’ it—and according to the 19th century French, that is what artists were supposed to do.

Sargent’s Scandal

shady ladies

John Singer Sargent portrait of Amélie Gautreau (“Madame X”)

This is in contrast to another painting in the museum that came to my mind as soon as I thought of the shady ladies tour, Sargent’s ‘Mme. X.’ This painting was a great scandal at the Salon 18 years after Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot, although to a modern eye it’s much less racy. I think, though, that the difference between the sitters’ statuses was important.

The woman with a parrot was a courtesan, while Mme. X was a society lady, so standards were different. A courtesan could lounge on her back in the nude, but a society lady couldn’t even wear a low-cut gown suggesting the shape of her breasts. And in the original version (which we know from an old photo that was discovered 30 years ago), one of her shoulder straps had also fallen down.

Now *that* was scandalous, implying that she was either about to get undressed or had just pulled on her clothes—perhaps after an adulterous fling. In fact, Sargent—and his model—were so upset by the scandal that he asked to be able to repaint the painting during the Salon and, when he was refused, repainted the shoulder strap as soon as he got the painting home to his studio.

 

 

Mistress to a King (or Two)

shady ladies

Gainsborough Grace Dalrymple Elliott

Of course, the tour doesn’t consist only of things I already knew when I first thought of it. After I came up with the idea, I took a long wander through the museum, hunting for more courtesans and royal mistresses, and I came up with a lot of great material, including for instance a make-up table that belonged to one of Louis XV’s most famous mistresses, Mme. de Pompadour. Probably my favorite of all, though, is this portrait of Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott. The Met is very conservative about labeling paintings, and it almost never mentions anything sexual, but in this case, even the Met calls her “a woman of great beauty but easy virtue.” And that she was.

Grace Elliott was the mistress of a number of important men, including the the future George IV, and Louis XVI’s cousin, the Duc d’Orléans—the one who voted to execute his cousin but later ended up on the guillotine himself as well. What I consider most interesting is that the portrait was commissioned by her main lover, the Marquess of Cholmondeley (pronounced ‘Chumley’) and hung in his house—although he was married. This shows (I think) that for an 18th century aristocrat, having a famously beautiful mistress was a point of honor: maybe it was even *better* if you had shared her with the Prince of Wales….

In any case, as you can see, Grace Elliott was quite an addition to the Shady Ladies tour, which covers sex workers and scandalous women, from ancient Greece to the 19th century, with much fascinating social history and history of sexuality…..  Join us, and learn that the Metropolitan (or rather art itself) is more fun than you realized!   For more information and tickets, see: https://www.zerve.com/OWTours/Ladies

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Gay History of England, Sights to See https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-history-of-england/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-history-of-england/#respond Wed, 09 Mar 2016 05:25:26 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4207 England is a great country for the traveler interested in gay history and culture.  London is one of the great gay cities, and there are also places of gay historical interest spread around the country, from Sissinghurst in the south to Castle Howard in the north.  The great thing about the gay history of England […]

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England is a great country for the traveler interested in gay history and culture.  London is one of the great gay cities, and there are also places of gay historical interest spread around the country, from Sissinghurst in the south to Castle Howard in the north.  The great thing about the gay history of England is that there are a number of famous and relatively well-documented people in English history who loved people of their own sex.  These include at least one king, James I, a number of aristocrats of note, and many authors, such as Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf.These are people who spoke about their feelings in literature, diaries, or letters, or who were famous enough that others commented on their love lives.  This makes the gay history of England not only rich, but also rather approachable.  And it is also visible in England:  there are sights you can visit that are connected with many of these people.

Shakespeare and the National Portrait Gallery

One of these people is of course Shakespeare.  I say “of course” because I used the famous Chandos portrait of him as my featured photo.  This painting is in London’s National Portrait Gallery, one of the great temples of gay history.  And it occupies a position of importance in the gallery:  when it was donated in 1856, it was the first work in the collection.  That makes sense, because Shakespeare is a key figure not only in English literature but in England’s national identity.

The question of his sexuality, however, is generally swept under the rug.  Perhaps this is because people know the plays better than the sonnets.  But the sonnets are the only place in which Shakespeare writes in the first person, so they give us our best evidence for his feelings.  A majority of them are addressed to an unnamed young man with whom the author is in love.  And although the poems you read in high school may not have been clearly homoerotic, some of them are very much so.  An example is Sonnet 20, where he calls the young man “the master mistress of my passion.”  He also addresses a woman he is in love with, and there is no point in trying to use the modern category ‘gay’ for a person from long before its invention.  Nonetheless, same-sex love was clearly an important part of his life.

Oscar Wilde in London and Oxford

Strangely, there is not a single picture of Oscar Wilde in the National Portrait Gallery.  There are portraits of many important figures in Wilde’s life in the gallery, though, and England is full of places associated with Wilde.  When I was studying in London 15 years ago, there were still two restaurants in London that Wilde frequented.  Both of them have sadly closed now, but there are other places still open with Wildean associations.

gay history of England

James J. Fox, Wilde’s tobacconist

Goodyear’s, for instance, the flower shop where Wilde and his friends bought their green carnations moved when it was bombed in World War II but is still open near Victoria Station.  And James J. Fox, Wilde’s tobacconist, is not only still open:  they still have the list of Wilde’s purchases and his debt to the store.

The gay history of England is not only found in London, however.  Oxford and Cambridge are both rich in gay history, and there is a series of historic houses and gardens in the south that are connected with the Bloomsbury circle and their experiments with sex and sexual identity.

 

 

 

gay history of England

Bletchley Park

Alan Turing and Bletchley Park

Another important place for gay history is Bletchley Park, where Britain’s top secret code-breaking project took place during World War II.  When I first planned tours of the gay history of England, I didn’t include Bletchley Park, because  I found that most people had not heard of Alan Turing.  Now, however, I am hoping that the movie The Imitation Game will have put him on people’s radar screen.  He really is one of the great gay heroes, both because of his role in saving the civilized world from Nazism and because of the senseless way in which he was persecuted (along with so many other men) for his homosexuality.  And Bletchley Park is well-preserved and has interesting exhibits about Turing and the movie:  it is well worth a visit.

To learn more about the gay history of England, come on Oscar Wilde Tours’ Gay London/Gay Paris tour in August.  We will see the places discussed in this post and many more; the tour will include the launch of our ‘Gay Secrets of the National Portrait Gallery’ tour as well as a gay tour of Westminster Abbey, and much more!  https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-londongay-paris/

 

 

 

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Gay History In Greece https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-history-in-greece/ https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-history-in-greece/#respond Mon, 08 Feb 2016 22:50:24 +0000 https://www.oscarwildetours.com/?p=4139 Since I wrote my blog post last week about my gay history explorations, people have been asking me to say something more about gay history in Greece. And this is very much on my mind, as I am leading Oscar Wilde Tours’ gay history and art tour in Greece in only 3 or 4 months […]

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Since I wrote my blog post last week about my gay history explorations, people have been asking me to say something more about gay history in Greece. And this is very much on my mind, as I am leading Oscar Wilde Tours’ gay history and art tour in Greece in only 3 or 4 months (https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-greece-travel-tours/)!

Greece is of course one of the great countries for gay history, because some form or forms of same-sex love were customary in the ancient Greek world.  And lots of evidence remains—if you know where to look!

Gay Heroes of Athens

This stone is a great example.  It’s a chunk of a statue base, in a glass case, in the Agora museum in Athens, and if you didn’t know what it was, you wouldn’t give it a second glance.  But in fact, it speaks volumes about gay history in Greece.  You can’t probably make it out in my lousy snapshot, but when it’s in front of you, you can clearly make out the upper line, which says (in Greek letters, but in this case, they’re close to the Roman letters we use), ARMODIO—most of the name HARMODIOS.

gay history in Greece

Harmodios and Aristogeiton statue base in the Agora museum

So…who was Harmodios?  Well, he was the Athenian George Washington, or half of George Washington.  He was the younger half of a typical Greek male-male lover-beloved couple, and he and his lover together assassinated the tyrant of Athens’ brother in 514 BC.  So the Athenians (accurately or not) regarded them as the founders of the democracy.  And they were hugely important in Athenian mythology.  They were worshiped with blood sacrifice at their tomb.  Their descendants had the right to eat free with the city council in perpetuity.  And they were constantly praised in literature and art.  In particular, they were the first mortal men honored with a public monument in the city of Athens.  Indeed, so important was their monument that when it was carried off by the invading Persians in 490 BC, the Athenians put up a second one.

And this is a piece of its base.  The monument is long gone, like most Greek bronzes—probably melted down in the middle Ages to make weapons.  But we know what it looked like, because copies of it were popular in ancient Rome.  There is a fairly complete marble copy in Italy, in the Naples archaeological museum, which I have used as the main photo for this post, with last year’s Oscar Wilde Tours Gay Italy group posed in front of it.  So there they are, two of Greece’s favorite gay heroes.  It’s pretty amazing that a piece of the original monument has survived to tell us about gay history in Greece!

Gay Gods at Olympia

Another things that that speaks to us about Greek ‘sexualities’ is this roof-ornament from the temple of Zeus Olympios at Olympia—the greatest temple of Zeus, in the sanctuary where the Greeks held their most important athletic competitions.  Much as the Greeks had gay heroes, they also had gay gods, and the king of the gods (also of course a major womanizer) had a boyfriend, the Trojan prince Ganymede, whom he carried off to pour the gods’ nectar, “on account of his beauty,” as the Iliad says.  And that is what this clay sculpture represents:  Zeus carrying Ganymede off.  It’s very different from the way the Greeks portray human love, which generally involves courtship, but Zeus is a god, so he doesn’t need all that folderol.  This story appears a lot in Greek literature and art:  poets say things like “of course I’m in love with a beautiful young man—Zeus did it too.”  But it is really striking to a modern mind that it was represented on the roof of the most important temple of the king of the gods.  This story wasn’t a joke for the Greeks, it was part of the top mythology of their religion, and here is the proof.

gay history in Greece

Zeus and Ganymede from Olympia

More Gay Gods at Delphi

gay history in Greece

Antinous at Delphi

Another great gay artwork comes from Delphi, from the great temple of the ancient world’s most important oracle, where in response to questions from all over the world, the priests interpreted the inscrutable ravings Apollo supposedly inspired in his priestesses.

In Roman times, however, another god who was worshiped in this temple was Antinous, the lover of the Emperor Hadrian who was deified after he fell into the Nile at the age of 19 and drowned, possibly a suicide.  Antinous became a quite popular god, and there were statues of him all over the empire.

This one must, however, have been particularly important, because, as you can see in the antique photo, he was

gay history in Greece

Discovery of Antinous at Delphi

rediscovered in 1894, still upright under the debris the temple.  Since his broken arms  among other things suggest that the statue was knocked down by the barbarians who destroyed the temple, this suggests that somebody cared so much about Antinous that they put the statue back up *after* the temple’s destruction.  That is worship!

And what a good statue to worship!  As always, Antinous has his fashion model looks:  pouty lips, a distant stare, and his tousled but perfect hair.  But somehow this is the most handsome of all the many statues of him, and a fitting monument to gay history in Greece—a culture in which the military heroes and gods were often what we would call gay!

Want to find out more?  Join us for our Gay Greece trip, September 7-19!  https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-greece-travel-tours/

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