Many works which today are regarded as exemplary or outstanding, were originally subject to censorship by political or religious figures who deemed their content inappropriate or offensive.
In fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, the strong influence of Catholicism saw a number of artists denounced as irresponsible proponents of the immoral or unholy. In 1565, under orders from Pope Daniele de Volterra, a pupil of Michelangelo made revisions to the Sistine Chapel fresco, The Last Judgement, adding loin cloths to figures which Michelangelo had originally left unclothed. The act earned the promising young artist the nick name “Braghettone” (“the britches-maker”) – an unfortunate diminution of his broader capabilities which would follow him for the duration of his career.
To modern observers, the former Pope’s direction seems amusingly prudish – an admission of an uncomfortable awareness of nudity – and perhaps sexuality – which is far surpassed by the skill, colour, and indeed every other aspect of the work. It seems highly unlikely that contemporary visitors to the Sistine Chapel leave the ancient building with an overwhelming sense that they have been visually assaulted by a surfeit of nude bodies.
And yet, during the 1600s, Michelangelo’s frescoes received a barrage of outraged comments from visitors who saw not skill, but obscenity. Commenting on the work, poet and satirist Pietro Aretino wrote:
“Is it possible that you, so divine that you do not deign to consort with men, have done such a thing in the highest temple of God? Above the first altar of Jesus? Not even in the brothel are there such scenes as yours…”