Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Italian Cover-Up

As we have seen in this country censorship is rampant. Children should not learn about sex … history should only be about pleasant subjects and not upset the children. Sad to see it happening but it is nothing new. A recent piece of art news makes me want to revisit the subject from a different perspective.

A recent article was published by the Guardian gleaned from the Associated Press, November 13, 2022. “Art Restorers in Florence have begun a 6 month project to clean and virtually “unveil” a long-censored nude painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653). With the discovery that the original subject was nude the painting has taken on new significance as a symbol of allowing women artists free expression. Artemisia who was one of the first to dare to break into the man’s world of art.

The work was commissioned in 1616 for the home of the great-nephew of Michelangelo which eventually became the Casa Buonarroti museum where it has been displayed on the ceiling. Veils and drapery were commissioned to cover the offending parts of the “Allegory of Inclination” about 70 years after it was painted. The nude is thought to be a self-portrait. Obviously, she would have been the most readily available model.

Restorers won’t be able to remove the cover-up because it was painted over too soon after the painting was finished. They can, however, distinguish the brush strokes of the original artist from those of the cover-up artist. The restoration team lead by the lead conservator Elizabeth Wicks plan to create a digital image of the original version and will be shown in an exhibition of the project opening next September.

The nude figure has long been a subject of censorship… protecting the innocent! In a 2016 issue of the Guardian, Jonathan Jones wrote an article titled, “The Great Cover-up: Renaissance Nudity Still has the Power to Shock” It recounts how Renaissance artists rediscovered the beauty of the nude in the art of the ancient Greeks and Romans. But then it “crashed into religious revivals, iconoclasm and holy wars during the Reformation and counter Reformation, not to mentions the later hypocrisies of the Victorian Age”.

Probably the best-known case is that of Michelangelo’s (1475-1564) “Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512). The depiction of male genetalia caused a critic at the time to say the fresco was more fit for a gay bathhouse than the Pope’s church. When Michelangelo died, a painter was hired to cover the crotches of the airborne nudes with draperies. The controversy was renewed during the 1980’s restoration of the fresco. The draperies were finally left untouched.

That was not the only Michelangelo cover-up. After the artist’s death a bronze loincloth was added to his sculpture of the “Risen Christ” (1519-1521) in Santa Maria Sopra.

Massacio’s (1401-1428) Adam and Eve, “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden”, circa 1425, in the Brancacci Chapel received a decency cover-up in the 17th century. These additions. However, were removed by a restorer in the 1980’s. Here we have before and after.

There are so many other examples and the battle continues all over the world. A news channel from Paw Paw, Michigan announced in 2019 that the Van Buren County Commission decided to cover up two, century-old murals inside the courthouse that depict women's bare breasts. The paintings were done by a local artist, Frank Lewis Van Ness in 1908 of classical Greek characters. Judge Kathleen Brinkly wrote in her recommendation letter to the commission, "To have paintings of bare breasted women in a courthouse displays a lack of respect for women, and for men who respect women."

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