Conservators are working to uncover a censored nude by Artemisia Gentileschi

In recent years, art historians have shown renewed interest in the works of Artemisia Gentileschi after she had been overlooked for centuries.

Now one of her works is of particular interest to the conservators of the Casa Buonarroti Museum in Florence, as it was previously censored by another artist.

The Volterrano

The painter in question is none other than Baldassare Franceschini, known as Il Volterrano. He made changes to a work painted by Artemisia Gentileschi in 1616 on the ceiling of the Galleria in the Casa Buonarroti in Florence.

Titled Allegory of Inclination, the oil on canvas depicts a nude female figure seated on a cloud, holding a compass in her hands. For seven decades, locals and visitors to the Galleria at Casa Buonarroti admired the curves of this nude figure.

But a descendant of Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, probably his nephew Leonardo Buonarroti, asked Il Volterrano to paint a blue leaf around the “inclination” to make it less sensual. Centuries later, as part of the Artemisia Unveiled project, a team of scientists is attempting to “virtually restore” the original appearance of this work by one of history’s seminal painters.

Using imaging methods such as infrared reflectography, grazing light and X-rays, they examine brushstrokes that are more than 400 years old. The goal is to determine whether they come from Artemisia Gentileschi or Il Volterrano.

But changing the “allegory of inclination” is out of the question, says Elizabeth Wicks, the conservator leading the Artemisia Unveiled project. “The first reason is that the repaints of Il Volterrano are considered historical and are part of the setting and life story of the painting.

Second, there is only a 70-year difference between Artemisia’s painting and the “censoring” curtains and veils. It’s a thick coat of paint, with impasto. It may turn out that the two layers of artists are very strongly connected, and if that’s the case then there’s absolutely no way we can compromise the painting,” she told The Florentine.

Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintings have increased in value significantly in recent years. One of them, “Lucretia”, was sold at Paris auction house Artcurial in 2019 for a record €4.8 million (about US$6.1 million). However, the “Allegory of Inclination” is not intended for sale.

It will be the focus of an exhibition on the “Artemisia Unveiled” project that Casa Buonarroti will host in September 2023. On this occasion, art lovers can see a digital reproduction of the original version of the artwork.

In the meantime, art fans can visit the Florentine Museum every Friday until next April to follow the progress of the restoration project and ask questions of the restorers involved.

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