Alan Hollinghurst at Literary Review:
‘At last!’ was my first reaction to this book: at last a scholarly treatment of a subject I’ve been noticing, pondering and mentally anthologising for much of my life. It’s partly a gay thing, no doubt, to clock the backside of a marble Jason or painted gondolier, surfaces and volumes that polite analysis seems not to register, and to speculate about those artists seemingly fixated by them. In his diary in 1907 E M Forster jotted down a list of names suggesting a sort of gay lineage – Pater, Whitman, Housman – and added ‘Luca Signorelli?’ I assume he had seen his frescoes in Orvieto Cathedral, in which the naked male backside is a pivotal feature, and jumped to his own conclusions.
In Seen from Behind, Patricia Lee Rubin pays much attention to Signorelli and is no doubt properly circumspect about outing him: sexual mentalities in 1500 are not to be crudely submitted to 21st-century models. But then, if Signorelli wasn’t in some sense gay, what did his focus on the male backside mean, to him and to his contemporaries?