The Last Judgment fresco, which took Michelangelo four years to complete, is based on male prostitutes he encountered in homosexual bathhouses and brothels, it has emerged.
Elena Lazzarini, of the Pisa University, said that the muscular figures in Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel is replete with homosexual imagery, including a man being dragged into Damnation by his testicles and kisses and embraces between male figures.
She has explored the theory in a new book, claiming that Michelangelo drew much of his knowledge of male anatomy from his frequent visits to gay brothels and 'Turkish baths' in 16th century Italy.
"The virile male bodies are inspired by the physiology of labourers engaged in physical exertion, with taut muscles, strenuous exertion and pain etched into the expression on their faces," the Telegraph quoted her as saying.
She said it was well documented that Michelangelo, who is believed by many historians to have been homosexual, frequented bathhouses and steam rooms tucked away in Rome's maze of cobbled alleyways.
"The bathhouses had many rooms where people could take hot and cold baths and massages. "And then there were other, secluded rooms, places of promiscuity and both male and female prostitution,' said Lazzarini.
Painted between 1537 and 1541, The Last Judgment is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the Apocalypse, with human souls either rising to Heaven or descending to Hell, according to Christ's judgment.
"One of the damned is dragged down to Hell by his testicles, and amongst those who are blessed there are kisses and embraces, undoubtedly homosexual in nature," said Lazzarini.
She has cited her observations in a book called 'Nudity, art and decorum: aesthetic changes in the art of the 16th century.'