Tommaso dei Cavalieri (c. 1512 to 1519—1587) was an Italian nobleman, who was the object of the greatest expression of Michelangelo's love. Cavalieri was 23 years old when Michelangelo met him in 1532, at the age of 57. The young nobleman was exceptionally handsome, and his appearance seems to have fit the artist's notions of ideal masculine beauty, for Michelangelo described him as "light of our century, paragon of all the world."[1] The two men remained lifelong close to each other, and Cavalieri was present at the artist's death.[2]

Michelangelo's partiality for young men was well known in his lifetime, but his sex life remained undisclosed; such a genius was allowed to be a law unto himself. After his death the fact itself was deliberately covered up and disguised, his love poems to Tommaso Cavalieri published, altered, as addressed to a woman.

Tommaso dei Cavalieri was the son of Mario de'Cavalieri and Cassandra Bonaventura. Cavalieri was born between 1512 and 1519, but the exact date of his birth is unknown. Cavalieri paid for the mass in the memory of his brother Emilio on 6 September 1536, which is mentioned in an official document, translated by Gerda Panofsky-Soergel. This is the only document that mentions the age of Cavalieri, stating "he is older than 16, but younger than 25". Warren Kirkendale, in his book Emilio de' Cavalieri "Gentiluomo Romano", corrects Panofsky-Soergel's reading of the document as stating that Cavalieri was "no more than 16", meaning he was "but a boy of twelve" when he met Michelangelo. Cavalieri's parents married in November 1509, and had one son, Emilio, before Tommaso was born. After the deaths of his father in 1524, and his older brother, Emilio, in 1536, Tommaso officially became the head of Cavalieri household. His first position in Roman government was caporione of his neighborhood of Sant'Eustachio, which he took in 1539. It was noted that Cavalieri did not participate in civic government extensively, compared to his peers, though Cavalieri would serve in this position five times (in 1539, 1542, 1546, 1558, and 1562). Twice he occupied the post of Conservatore, the highest-ranking office a Roman citizen could occupy (in 1564 and 1571).[3] Cavalieri married Lavinia della Valle in 1544 in Rome.[4] Lavinia was born sometime between 1527 and 1530. She was a daughter of Lorenzo Stefano della Valle and Giulia Caffarelli, and a cousin of Cardinal Andrea della Valle.[5] The marriage of Tommaso and Lavinia was a continuation of longstanding tradition of marriagies between Cavalieri and della Valle families, who had been related by marriage at least since the 15th century. The connection of the families was shown when Tommaso dei Cavalieri had sought shelter in Cardinal Andrea della Valle’s palace, where Lavinia's mother also found refuge, accompanied by three of her children, most likely Lavinia's older sisters, Orinzia, Polimnia, and Porzia during the Sack of Rome in 1527.[6] Cavalieri's marriage produced two sons, Mario, probably born in 1548, and Emilio, born by 1552, who would go on to become a renowned composer. The marriage lasted nine years, ending with della Valle's death in early November 1553; della Valle was buried in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, where both the Cavalieri and della Valle families had chapels. Cavalieri was made one of Convervatori in 1554, and took the position responsible for supervising construction at the Campidoglio, which Michelangelo had begun restorating in 1538. Work on this complex project, involving the renovation of the existing Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Senatorio, as well as construction of a third building, the Palazzo Nuovo, did not begin until 1542 and would not be fully realized until 1662. Cavalieri was co-director for construction from 1554 to 1575 and supervised the project through its most productive phase of development. Despite him sharing responsibility for the construction with Prospero Boccapaduli, Cavalieri is mentioned to have been primarily responsible for the realization of Michelangelo's designs, while Boccapaduli managed the financial and administrative tasks.

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