In 1565, the Italian artist Andrea da Volterra was commissioned to ‘cover the genitals’ of the painted figures in Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgment’ at the Sistine Chapel with painted loincloths because the Pope at the time could not tolerate this nudity at the heart of the Vatican. One should never forget that the Italian Renaissance had its antiheros and antagonists, or how else would we understand the discourse of someone like Savonarola and his infamous Bonfire of the Vanities in plain quttrocento?
That was centuries ago, and you would think we have learned our lessons, especially in Italy, where classical humanism was revived and where art is at home, but the devil always lurks behind the cross, and economic interests happen to speak louder than aesthetic drives. Such was the case when, earlier this week, some Italian officials forgot that in art, sometimes, covering naked bodies is more profane than exposing them. They covered up the nude statues in Rome’s Capitoline Museum so as not to offend the Iranian President who was on an official visit; they ‘boxed up’ part of the heritage of an entire -great- nation to satisfy the taste of one man whose country ranks where it ranks on every human rights abuse list (a very unworthy heir of a great Persian Civilization).
Italy did not build its glory and did not gain its status in the hearts of intellectuals and art lovers by renouncing and hiding its heritage, even if the price is billions of dollars in deals with oil-rich countries with filthy hands and twisted taste. The assault against art that covering up the nude statues represents is, to my mind, the epitome of a failed intercultural dialogue, and one can only remember this Ovid’s quote: ‘beauty is a fragile gift’.
If we want to honor their immortal quality, fragile gifts should not be handled by shaky hands. Do not shy away from what is yours to please he who does not appreciate, because in denying Christ thrice, Peter was no less criminal than Judas.