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Censored 1616 nude painting to be digitally ‘unveiled’

The curtains will finally be raised.

Art restorers in Florence, Italy are working to restore a 17th Century painting of a nude woman that was censored with curtains drawn over the woman’s chest.

“Allegory of Inclination” was painted by Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi in 1616 and is believed to be a self-portrait. But around 70 years later, a descendant of the person who commissioned it found the nudity embarrassing, and paid an artist to cover the woman with veils and drapery.

Conservators are now using ultraviolet light, diagnostic imaging and X-rays to examine the painting and figure out how to restore it digitally.

The censoring was done too soon after the painting was originally created to remove the veils and curtains, but restorers will produce a digital version that shows what it would’ve looked like by closely studying the painting’s brush strokes.

Restorer Elizabeth Wicks works on the "Allegory of Inclination", a 1616 work by Artemisia Gentileschi, in the Casa Buonarroti Museum, in Florence, Italy.
Restorer Elizabeth Wicks works on the “Allegory of Inclination”, a 1616 work by Artemisia Gentileschi, in the Casa Buonarroti Museum, in Florence, Italy.

Gentileschi herself has a fascinating life story and is a major figure in Italian art history. She came to Florence at 17 years old from Rome, where her rapist had just been tried and convicted to serve eight months in prison.

Gentileschi was forced to testify at the gruesome trial, where she had ropes tied around her fingers that were tightened while she spoke to prove her honesty. She also had to undergo a physical examination meant to reveal if she was still a virgin.

“Somebody else would have been crushed by this experience,” lead conservator Elizabeth Wick said. “But Artemisia bounces back. She comes up to Florence. She gets this wonderful commission to paint a full-length nude figure for the ceiling of Casa Buonarroti. So, I think she’s showing people, ‘This is what I can do.’”

Linda Falcone, coordinator of the Artemisia Up Close project, said “Through her, we can talk about how important it is to restore artwork, how important it is to restore the stories of women to the forefront.”

Restorer Elizabeth Wicks  will create a digital rendering of the original work.
Restorer Elizabeth Wicks will create a digital rendering of the original work.

Gentileschi was just 22 years old when she painted “Allegory of Inclination”

“This is one of her first paintings. In the Florentine context, it was her debut painting, the same year she was then accepted into the Academy of Drawing, which was the first drawing academy in Europe at the time,” Falcone said.

“She was able to hobnob with Galileo and with other great thinkers. So this almost illiterate woman was suddenly at the university level, producing works of art that were then, you know, appreciated by the Grand Duke,” she continued.

The digital restoration should be finished by September 2023, and will be displayed at Casa Buonarroti, where the painting has hung for the past four centuries.

With Post wires.

A view of Florence's Ponte Vecchio.
A view of Florence’s Ponte Vecchio.

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