Florence rediscovers her censored nude photo by artist Artemisia Gentileschi
More than 300 years ago in Florence, a discreet descendant of Michelangelo decided to censor a painting by the talented Artemisia Gentileschi, hidden beneath strategic layers of this bare paint that we cannot see.
Several months of painstaking restoration have today made it possible to rediscover the original scene, the Allegory of the Inclination, which one of the first Baroque painters chose for this 1616 painting, commissioned to honor the memory of Michelangelo (1475-). 1564).
The canvas that decorated the ceiling of the author of the Sistine Chapel in Florence was handed over in September and entrusted to a group of experts. Thus, they were able to learn the secrets of this work of Artemisia Gentileschi, whose talent, independence and dramatic life have sparked renewed interest in the context of the MeToo era.
The thick drapes and draperies added later to hide the nudity are not removed by the restoration, but the images from the study allow us to rediscover the canvas as the artist, born in Rome in 1593, intended.
“We turned it inside out like a glove, as we say in Italian, and there are all the technical diagnoses imaginable to understand how the image is drawn, painted, then what happens and see what we can read under the veil of censorship added to the painting,” the experts and technical staff lead curator Elizabeth Wicks told AFP.
This nude woman sitting on a cloud, personifying artistic creativity, was commissioned by Michelangelo’s great-nephew, a man of letters who turned his ancestor’s residence into a lavish museum celebrating his genius.
This great nephew commissioned 15 paintings to decorate the gallery ceiling of this house. Artemisia Gentileschi, famous during her lifetime and receiving royal commissions, was paid three times more than her colleagues due to her exceptional talents.
He painted this work at the age of 17, shortly after arriving in Florence from Rome, where both had been molested by his father’s colleague, the artist. The trial resulted in the conviction of the attacker.
But seventy years after the work was commissioned, another descendant of Michelangelo, wary and concerned about the potential consequences of these nudes on his wife and children, asked the famous artist Baldassare Franceschini to cover them up.
– x-rays –
Nicknamed “il Volterrano” after the village in Tuscany where she was born, she covered the chest of Artemisia’s imagined character with a diaphanous veil, and concealed her sex and thighs with a thick veil.
Trying to remove this layer of oil paint, which can take up to two centuries to dry completely, is now too risky.
“I like to think he was already in another world when this painting was censored, because I don’t think he would have enjoyed it as much,” notes Ms. Weeks. “We don’t like it that much either, but now it’s part of the history of this painting.”
In gentle circular motions, she dabs a cotton swab soaked in solvent over the surface of the paint, reviving the vivid colors of her bare flesh.
Finished with a polish in the 1960s, centuries of candle smoke gave the skin an orange tint, while the bright blue of the lapis lazuli-toned sky turned grey-green.
“You can see that leg is lighter because I cleaned it by reducing the varnish,” he says, looking at the canvas through a magnifying glass.
X-ray scans and various imaging techniques revealed the now hidden nakedness – “What you think you’ll find under the hood is right there, it’s all there!” – also the changes in the eyes and hands by Artemisia.
During the exhibition scheduled for September, visitors will be able to closely examine the work, view digital images that reveal the different layers, and discover the modern techniques that allow them to be revealed.
After that, the painting will return to its original place on the ceiling.
For Linda Falcone, coordinator of the project, it is important to “create the idea of women’s art, of being heroes of their time.”
Artemisia puts herself on the scene in this painting dedicated to Michelangelo, and a female figure appears on it: “She says + she wants to paint me as a woman +”.
“He puts the hero in the middle of the canvas, and that hero has a face,” he adds.