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Oremland, J.D. (1985). Michelangelo's Ignudi, Hermaphrodism, and Creativity. Psychoanal. St. Child, 40:399-433.

(1985). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 40:399-433

Michelangelo's Ignudi, Hermaphrodism, and Creativity

Jerome D. Oremland, M.D.


My thesis is that what manifested itself as Michelangelo's "homosexuality" is multileveled reenactments and enactments. On the surface is a reenactment of the sadomasochistic qualities that characterized his relationship with his father. Beneath this sadomasochism reenactment is a shifting sense and unclarity of maleness and femaleness related to defensive "phallicizing" of females and "maternalizing" of males in his vain hope of regaining the mother(s) lost early in his childhood. More profoundly enacted was a complex mastery undoing of those early maternal losses by his becoming the "adopting" mother rather than being the abandoned child. These dynamics, I hold, in varying combinations and with varying emphasis, help us understand Michelangelo's relationships and his suffering that informed his art formally and thematically.

With regard to identifying the developmental contribution to Michelangelo's creativity, I place emphasis on the deeper level of mastery of maternal loss through fusion with her—described, enacted, and pictorialized by him—and continuing, intensified, transitional functioning. Through fusion and reemerging via all important connotative things endowed with meaning and fashioned toward that end—the very stuff of art—Michelangelo repeatedly "found" her, himself, and the world anew. I suggest that with awesome precision, his hermaphroditic images depict the subjective primal fusion experience that underlies creativity. It is the epicene quality of creativity limned as the progression in gender definition of the ignudi and brought to vivid profile in certain of the ignudi(fig. 1) that makes these 20 youths of the Sistine Chapel and endless wonderment to countless tens of thousands for nearly half a millennium.

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