Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion in Locarno, Switzerland
Artist Spotlight: Elisar von Kupffer's Gay Eden

By Christopher Harrity

Originally published on Advocate.com May 12 2012 4:00 AM ET

Elisar von Kupffer (1872-1942) dedicated his life to a spiritual vision of a perfect world of male love. Most of his writing, art, and painting supported his utopian view of a dreamy youthful bonding between men in an idyllic setting.

To be sure, men of his social standing in life were permitted greater freedom and self-expression. Focusing on the quasi-intellectual side of his philosophy — Klarismus (clarity) — gave his somewhat campy, if not kooky version of a perfect world the safe patina of religion. It was a dreamy world of harmony, eros, and androgynous aesthetics.

He established himself as a muralist in Locarno, Switzerland, with his partner, Eduard von Mayerm and together they created the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion, a combination museum, temple, and artistic retreat in their villa at the Lake Maggiore.

In the center of the villa is a round room that houses his heroic mural Klarwelt der Seligen. The painting depicts 84 nude, youthful men in various states of ethereal ecstasy and affection. There is a series of poems for each grouping and panel of the mural.

These were not the brawny and intimidating Aryan heroes who were soon to be emblematic of the Third Reich. These were cherubic boys that spanned the distance between masculine and feminine. Von Kupffer's vision was not antiwoman. In fact, he believed encouraging men to engage freely in affectionate homosocial friendships would allow them to experience a greater bond with the women in their lives.

In 1981 the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion was established as a museum to house von Kuppfer's work.

Aphrodite x633 | advocate.com

Arafrodite

Drei Seelen 1913 von KuPffer | ADVOCATE.COM

Drei Seelen, 1913

Von Kupffer and model Sulla Spiaggia x633 | ADVOCATE.COM

Modeled by von Kupffer (with cane) and a model Sulla Spiaggia

Von Kupffer and Eduard von Mayer x633 | ADVOCATE.COM

Von Kupffer and Eduard von Mayer

Self-portrait as Prinz Carneval x633 | ADVOCATE.COM

Self-portrait as Prinz Carneval

Self-portrait as Prinz Carneval x633 painting | advocate.com

Self-portrait as Prinz Carneval, the painted version

Elisar von Kupffer as Saint Sebatstian x633 | advocate.com

Elisar von Kupffer as Saint Sebastian

Elisar von Kupffer The Grapes of Tessin x633 | advocate.com

The Grapes of Tessin

Elisar von Kupffer young men in dresses x633 | ADVOCATE.COM

Young men at play in shorts, garters, and what appears to be an early skort.

Elisar von Kupffer Ikone Clarismo x633 | Advocate.com

Ikone Clarismo

Elisar von Kupffer an interior shot of Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion x633 | ADVOCATE.COM

An interior shot of Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion

ELISAR VON KUPFFER an interior shot of Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion X633 | ADVOCATE.COM

An interior shot of Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion

ELISAR VON KUPPFER The pavilion that houses Klarwelt der Seligen x633 | ADVOCATE.COM

The pavilion that houses Klarwelt der Seligen

ELISAR VON KUPFFER Klarwelt der Seligen 01 X633 | ADVOCATE.COM

A panel from Klarwelt der Seligen

ELISAR VON KUPFFER A panel from Klarwelt der Seligen 02 X633 | ADVOCATE.COM

A panel from Klarwelt der Seligen

ELISAR VON KUPFFER A panel from Klarwelt der Seligen 03 X633 | ADVOCATE.COM

A panel from Klarwelt der Seligen

ELISAR VON KUPFFER A panel from Klarwelt der Seligen 04 X633 | ADVOCATE.COM

A panel from Klarwelt der Seligen

ELISAR VON KUPFFER X633 | ADVOCATE.COM

Elisar von Kupffer