I hope that most of you, my friends, have had the pleasure of traveling to Italy at least once, and experienced the glory of Rome ––with its thousands of years of history and culture visible on seemingly every street and piazza of this ancient city. And boy, its museums… chock-full of Gods and Goddesses, and I mean Greek and Roman marble sculptures of nude deities.
The Dying Gaul. Capitoline Museums (Rome, Italy)
Photo: Stefano Costantini
Last week, two of these marble beauties, in the collection of Capitoline Museum, were temporarily imprisoned in tall white boxes. What was their crime, you ask? Nudity, of course… Italian authorities were afraid to insult the sensibilities of President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who was scheduled to attend a news conference with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held in Capitoline Museum's grand hall. The story was reported in the New York Times (January 28, 2016) last week.
Aphrodite. Capitoline Museums (Rome, Italy)
Italian authorities were rightfully ridiculed for their lack of –– should I say balls? –– in dealing with essential cultural traditions representing the glory of Italian art history. The irony is, when President Rouhani visited the Vatican, no one there attempted to shield him from all the glorious nudes that fills its walls and ceilings. Today's New York Times article continues to deal with “Italy's clumsy attempt at courtesy” toward Iran's President. It's still a mystery: who ordered these sculptures to be hidden inside white coops? No one in a position of authority –– neither in the government nor in the museum itself –– has taken responsibility for this embarrassing decision.
Spirit of Justice from the Great Hall of Department of Justice in Washington, DC
But let's be fair to our Italian friends, and remember that here in the United States, the fear of nudity among politicians on occasion leads to similarly embarrassing incidents. I recall the reports back in 2002 about covering partially-nude statues in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered to have these statues covered during formal events because he did not like being photographed in front of them.
Danaë (1621) by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639)
Photograph courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum
And speaking of nudes here at home… Our City of Angels is ready to welcome a new beauty, which soon will grace the galleries of the Getty Museum. At a recent Sotheby's auction in New York, the gorgeous Danaë by famous Italian painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), was acquired by the Getty for the impressive sum of just over $30 million. According to Greek mythology, an oracle warned Danaë's father that her son would kill him one day, so Danaë's father hid her in a tower to keep mortal men away. The only person who managed to penetrate this tower –– and Danaë herself –– was Zeus, who did so by turning himself into a shower of gold coins…
I bet my bottom dollar that this gorgeous painting, with its life-size nude figure greeting her divine lover, will become a major attraction in the Getty collection. And hopefully, no visiting politicians object to being photographed in front of it.