Lives of Gallant Ladies (Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme)
This is a sourcebook of excerpts (in translation) from historic documents relating to France during the 16-18th centuries that relate in some way to same-sex relationships. The documents cover court records, personal correspondence, religious commentary, medical opinion, satire, and political polemic. While most items take an external point of view, some are (or purport to be) from the point of view of homosexuals themselves.
The chapter begins with a survey of the types of published materials that led Lanser to identify the late 16th century as a shifting point in the discourse around sapphic topics. In 1566 a Swiss writer provides an account of a French woman who disguised herself as a man, worked as a stable groom and then a wine grower, married another woman, was eventually unmasked, and was executed. He notes “how our century can boast that beyond all the evils of the preceding ones” and explicitly disclaims any connection between events such as this and the “tribades in ancient times”.
In the 16th century Laudomia Forteguerri wrote sonnets to Duchess Margaret of Austria, five of which survive. And at least one contemporary of theirs placed the relationship between the two in the context at Plato’s myth of lovers seeking their "other half”, placing them in a list of "those who...love each other’s beauty, some in purity and holiness, as the elegant Laudomia Forteguerra loves the most illustrious Margaret of Austria, some lasciviously, as ...
There are many aspects of the history of homosexuality where an assumption of parallelism between the experiences of men and women leads to erroneous conclusions about what did and didn’t exist. For men seeking sexual experiences with men, there’s a fairly well documented history of networks, meeting places, and informal associations that helped them achieve their ends.
Renaissance philosophy tackled the question of friendship: who is an appropriate friend, what behavior should a friend exhibit, what is the relationship between the love of friends and sexual desire? Given the times, the majority of texts addressing this topic were concerned with friendships between men, though a nod was often given to Sappho as a proponent of female friendships, or to the possibility of “Platonic love” between women, which is given explicit license in the Symposium as well as by Renaissance writers commenting on it, as Agnolo Firenzuola did.
This chapter covers various textual and visual works that can reasonably be interpreted as deliberately portraying same-sex activity for the purposes of titillation. One item of particular interest is Jeanne Mignon’s work “Women Bathing” (after Luca Penni, ca. 1540) which depicts a large group of naked women bathing together, some engaging in mutual stimulation. (The work matches in content very well with the picture mentioned by Brantôme as having been arousing to women who viewed it.)