Art has no rules, no boundaries. It cannot be controlled or chained. Art is part of a hidden world, it comes from another universe, different from the real one. Artists are just the way through which art can reach people. Its freedom should not be blamed or questioned, and everyone must be aware of this.
Unfortunately, many people seem to not understand art’s peculiarities, when they define some masterpieces as “scandalous”, “inappropriate”, even “offensive”; this phenomenon started many centuries ago, probably in concomitance with the birth of art itself. Since then art and censorship started a big war, one against the other, and many times the first one ended up being the victim. A blatant example of this defeat may be found in the problematic relationship between the church and the art; these two realities have always been strongly linked one to the other, because art was, and is still, used by the church to represent the main protagonists and facts that appear in the Holy Books. It was also a veiled way to demonstrate the power and richness of the different Popes and religious orders. However, after the Trento Council or periods such as the Counter-Reformation, the same pieces of art that were commissioned by the church ended up being censored.
In 1508 Pope Giulio II commissioned to Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance, the creation of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. However the piece of art that people can now admire in the Chapel is no more the same as the one that Michelangelo painted more than five hundred years ago; in fact thirty-eight figures were literally “dressed up” by the artist Daniele da Volterra, called for this reason the “braghettone” that literally means “the one who puts pants on”, who under the request of the church intervened to cover the “obscene nudities” realized by Michelangelo. So the extraordinary representations of the human body created by the artist are now no more visible, because someone decided that they were not worth it.
(One of the figures of the Sistine Chapel covered by Daniele Da Volterra)
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is not the only victim of this aggressive process of censorship; everywhere in Italy many statues, paintings and frescos have been covered, changed, hidden. The so called “fig leaf syndrome” has affected so many statues that is almost impossible to know the exact number. Walking around in museums, well-known Italian streets and squares a person may easily see a statue, with its nudities covered by a fig leaf or a bronzed drape. These additional pieces seem to be foreign bodies that try to manipulate the integrity and the perfection of the work of art, and that in many cases succeed in doing so. Only few times people understand how piteous this kind of censorship is and decide to bring the piece of art back to its original state; for example, the fig leaves that were post-painted on the nudities of the two figures of Adam and Eva, realized by Masaccio on the walls of the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, have been removed only twenty-seven years ago.
(An example of the “fig-leaf syndrome” in Stadio dei Marmi, Rome. Photo by Flaminia Feleppa)
This kind of censorship continued to attack art also in the following times and many famous artists were accused of obscenity. Between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, the Spanish artist Francisco Goya painted the famous Maya desnuda, taking inspiration from a similar painting made by Velazquez, called Venus with Cupid. Then, under the commission of a rich aristocrat, he also painted a second version of the painting but in this one, the female protagonist was dressed. In fact, it was named Maya vestida. The aristocrat, whose name was Godoy, decided to buy the two versions of the painting and to make them part of his big art collection. However, when Godoy fell in disgrace his paintings were confiscated, and Goya was accused of obscenity by the Spanish Inquisition, famous for its harshness. After the confiscation the two paintings were brought to the Real Academia de San Fernando, where the Maya vestida was regularly exposed, while the Maya desnuda was hidden from the public view. But the Maya desnuda persecution did not end there: when in 1947 a magazine dared to put the painting on its cover, it was strongly criticized by the public opinion.
(The Maya vestida and Maya desnuda paintings by Francisco Goya)
Jumping over centuries and landing in the current years, other two controversial censorship problems may be found: the choice of covering the statues of the Musei Capitolini in concomitance with the visit of the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in 2016 and the media circus created around the recent discoveries made about the “L’Origine du Monde” by Gustave Courbet.
The whole international artistic community took part in the case of Musei Capitolini, strongly criticizing the covering of the statues; the same approach was then adopted by the Italian Government, that claimed to not be aware of this choice, and by the delegates of president Rouhani himself, who declared that to him seeing the statues, even with their nudities, was not a problem, but that he would have just preferred not be photographed near them. This fact, that maybe was caused by a problem of miscommunication, seemed to be more as the proof that the “fig leaf syndrome” is by now rooted in our culture.
On the other hand, L’Origine du Monde has always been famous for its scandalous freedom of representation, and recently people have started to play the blame game with it again. On the 25th September of this year, the well-known Italian newspaper Corriere della sera published the news about the discovery of the real identity of the model who posed for the realization of this painting. Obviously, the article was sided by a picture of the painting, but the readers did not appreciate it; there were dozens of bad comments, in which the public said that the newspaper should be ashamed of itself for publishing such obscenities.
(L’Origine du monde by Gustave Courbet, obviously censored)
The right answer to all these types of distorted, anachronistic and sometimes also ignorant ways of thinking, from the century old “fig leaf syndrome” to the month-old comments made about L’Origine du Monde, should be just one, and is mentioned in the first paragraph of this article.
- Scorranese, R., (2016), http://reportage.corriere.it/cultura/2016/dai-braghettoni-a-michelangelo-fino-a-stalin-quelle-assurde-foglie-di-fico-sullopera-darte/
- De Marchis, G.,(2016), https://www.repubblica.it/politica/2016/01/28/news/l_ira_di_renzi_qualcuno_paghera_nel_mirino_la_donna_del_cerimoniale-132189792/
- Tortora, F., (2018), https://www.corriere.it/liberitutti/18_settembre_27/scoperta-l-identita-modella-che-poso-l-origine-mondo-0011f2d4-c17b-11e8-a8b5-6946012e9fb4.shtml