PS - Should my high school art history teacher Mr. Nickel wind up seeing this, I hope that he accepts my most heartfelt apologies for taking advantage of artistic pioneers in the pursuit of cheap laughs.
Members of the “art crowd” are generally not perceived as pinnacles of manhood, from Andy Warhol’s all out, no holds barred gayness to the fat kid in high school who sat around drawing pictures of Pokemon. Sure, they can paint a pretty picture, but when the chips are down and people are getting ready to throw punches, it’s generally acknowledged that the artist in the room is the one curled up on the floor hoping his attacker will slip in the puddle of fresh urine.
However, this was not always the case. As early as just over 100 years ago, there were plenty of artists walking the streets who you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Artists like…
#5 – PAUL GAUGUIN
Why he was famous
Gauguin was a pioneer of early "The Simpsons" fan art.
Gauguin was a leader of the Post-Impressionist movement whose use of bold color brought about Synthesism while simultaneously bridging the gap to the Primitavist Movement and a return to pastoral themes in artwork. Also, he got pissed at a guy and chopped off his ear.
Why he could fuck you up
Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh were arguably the original BFFs. The two first met in Paris in 1887 and quickly hit it off due to a mutual interest in Post-Impressionism and, presumably, cornholing, because less than a year later they were living together in Arles with the intention of starting an art colony. Only in France is the cover story for a gay love affair even gayer than the sum of its parts.
Sadly, not all was well in paradise. Gauguin and Van Gogh fought often over their artistic differences, fights that were fueled by Van Gogh’s unraveling mental condition and the fact that their grand artist’s colony was still just two gay dudes in a rented room.
As the winter wore on, the weather worsened and both angry men were forced to stay cooped up indoors for days at a time. Cabin fever quickly set in, and as we all learned from The Shining, that can only end with somebody waving something sharp around.
In December of 1888, tensions between the two reached a breaking point, prompting Gauguin, an experienced fencer, to grab a sword (apparently these sorts of things are just lying around in an artist’s colony) and lop off part of Van Gogh’s ear, in an event that would go on to inspire the hit film Reservoir Dogs.
Gauguin threw his sword into the river and fled the scene while Van Gogh set about tending to his mangled ear – namely by leaving the chopped off piece of ear in the care of a friendly prostitute and then falling asleep. He and Gauguin never met again, although they exchanged several letters and, experts agree, struck an deal in which Van Gogh would say he cut off his own ear to save Gauguin from police action while in return Gauguin presumably would not come back to finish the job.
The clincher? In a letter to his brother Theo some time after the attack, Van Gogh commented, “Luckily Gauguin… Is not yet armed with machine guns and other dangerous war weapons.” This would be the last time in history that the concept of an armed Frenchman did anything but make people laugh.
#4 – LEONARDO DA VINCI
Why he was famous
The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, a terrible movie with Tom Hanks.
Why he could fuck you up
Let’s begin by saying this – Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t actually do anything particularly violent or shocking. He spent most of his life painting, being famous, and (possibly) having sex with younger men. Although to clarify, this was during the Renaissance, and back then having sex with younger men was like having an iPhone.
However, in addition to all of his artwork, Da Vinci spent a lot of time sketching out potential war weapons in his notebooks, in which he wrote down his notes backwards so that his competitors couldn’t figure out his secrets.
Apparently he thought his competitors wouldn’t understand the complexities of a cannon with 12 barrels unless they could read his notes, which most likely read “BOOM, MOTHERFUCKER!” in backwards-Italian.
That wasn’t it. Da Vinci’s notes contained diagrams of shrapnel filled cluster bombs, helicopters, and a chariot covered in whirling blades (accompanied by multiple illustrations of decapitated soldiers, just in case you thought it was a bread maker or something).
Maybe you’re saying, “Bullshit! He just drew pictures of guns and stuff! He’s not so tough!” But that’s the thing – he spent hours sitting around drawing intricate and detailed diagrams of weapons of mass destruction, accompanied by notes written in his own secret language. Imagine if you saw somebody doing that in the lunchroom at your workplace. Or in the student union. Or in a post office. Would you fuck with that guy?
And that’s just some guy; this was Leonardo Da Vinci, widely regarded as one of the smartest people who ever lived. If anybody could make this stuff work, it would have been him. If he hadn’t lost interest in all these projects, there’s a very good chance we’d be living in the United States of Da Vinci right about now.
#3 – PIETRO TORRIGIANO
Why he was famous
A whole lot of sculptures of dead saints, some of whom you might have learned about if you hadn’t kept sneaking your Game Boy into Sunday School.
Why he could fuck you up
While artists like Gauguin waited most of their lives to fuck a guy up, Torrigiano started early, and he didn’t need a sword, either.
During the Renaissance, artists became artists by participating in apprenticeships offered by older, master artists. These apprenticeships would start from an early age and continue well into young adulthood, which really helped to facilitate the whole “sex with younger men” thing a lot of artists were into back then. Torrigiano was an apprentice of one such master.
Now, by all accounts, Torrigiano was a really good sculptor, especially for his age, and he outshone all the other students taking part in the apprenticeship save for one – Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Yes, THAT Michelangelo.
This was incredibly frustrating for Torrigiano – and who can blame him? It’s like if you were taking lessons and working hard to become a really great guitar player, but Jimi Hendrix was taking lessons from the same guy. Nobody gives a shit about you, they only care about the big dog.
One day, while both students were carving sculptures, Michelangelo made a wayward snarky comment, to which Torrigiano responded by punching the young master in the face (Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount is apparently a big Torrigiano fan). But this was no ordinary punch – the teenaged sculptor hit Michelangelo so hard that his nose was flattened, permanently disfiguring him.
Unfortunately for Torrigiano, breaking an artistic genius’s nose carried a pretty heavy penalty during the Renaissance, and he was forced to discontinue his apprenticeship and flee the city before the cops showed up. This probably made a pretty big dent in his artistic progress, but not nearly as big as the dent it made in Michelangelo’s nose.
Michelangelo was not as well known for his contributions to the Renaissance's quirky romantic comedies.
After escaping trial in Florence, Torrigiano settled in Rome, where he made several sculptures on commission before he decided he was done creating art with stone and instead wanted to create pain and suffering with his fists. Thus, he gave up sculpting for a while and became a mercenary in the employ of various powerful Italian lords. The most notable of these was Cesare Borgia, the Pope’s illegitimate son (celibacy being more of a guideline than a rule back then) who led a mercenary army that conquered a good-sized chunk of Italy. No doubt legions of defeated enemy soldiers left the battlefield with their noses flattened beyond recognition.
Torrigiano spent his last years in Spain during the Inquisition, which was precisely why they were his last years. Legend has it that when he became dissatisfied with a statue of the Virgin Mary he was working on, he smashed it (most likely with his nose-breaking fist) and was thrown into Inquisitional prison for heresy. Unwilling to let the Catholics have the last laugh, he starved himself to death before they could sentence him to any sort of punishment. That’ll teach ‘em.
Meanwhile, Torrigiano’s archenemy Michelangelo outlived him by 33 years in spite of bubonic plague outbreaks and frequent warfare between Italian city-states, and went down in history as arguably the most famous artist of all time. Historians agree, however, that his nose was ugly as fuck.
Truman Capps reminds you to tune in Wednesday for the thrilling conclusion!