Michelangelo is often considered one of history’s greatest artists, and his sexuality may have been part of what made him great, as that was certainly a factor in helping him break free of convention to create genius. The New Republic’s Jed Perl describes Michelangelo’s The Dream as his most haunting drawing, and it is fraught with homoerotic emotions.

The dreamer is a handsome young man, his naked muscular body decisively, dramatically posed. But the dream itself is tangled, ambiguous, dramatically confounding.

Amidst the tension between the calm of the central figure and the agitation swarming around it, Perl notes this may be a portrait of Michelangelo’s longtime lover, Tommaso de’ Cavalieri. If true this offers an astonishing portrait of their often troubled relationship.

Whatever the source, The Dream inspires, disturbs, and challenges me, or as Perl puts it:

The Dream explodes the ordinary pleasures of allegory, which are the pleasures of piecing together a puzzle. Michelangelo’s puzzle, complete but still puzzling, is irreducible allegory—a whole thought to be grasped through the experiencing authority of the eye.