Artemisia Censored

By Sotheby's
Picture: The Guardian

A conservation project has begun in Italy investigating a 'censored' painting by Artemisa Gentileschi. Drapery, fig leaves or conveniently placed objects were a common means of concealing nudity during the Catholic Counter-Reformation. After the censorship of Michelangelo’s frescoes of the Sistine Chapel by Volterra, many other masterpieces were also cleverly veiled in the past.

The Allegory of Inclination by Artemisa Gentileschi was subject to one of these acts of censorship. The work was initially commissioned for the family house of Michelangelo Buonarotti the Younger. It is believed that Leonardo Buonarroti, one of the family's later descendants, commissioned Baldassarre Franceschibi, known as Il Volterrano, to paint this blue drapery that conceals the allegory's nudity. According to the coordinator of the Artemisia Up Close project, this censorship was an effort to protect the owner’s wife and children from being exposed to a figure that might disturb the decorum kept in their household.

The project, now in the hands of Italian restorers, aims to virtually 'unveil' the censored nude to reveal Gentileschi's work hidden by the later work. To do this, the conservators have used ultraviolet light, diagnostic imaging and X-rays. Unfortunately, the veil cannot be removed because they were painted too soon after the original and their removal could damage the painting. Instead, a digital image was created and will be feature in the Casa Buonarotti's upcoming Artemisia-Unveiled exhibition which will run from September 2023 until January 2024.

Old Master Minute