At Large  October 24, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Censored Work by Artemisia Gentileschi Is Finally Shown

Olga Makarova and Calliope Arts Archive

Restoration scientists at INO analyze a work by Artemisia Gentileschi.

In 1612, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, a descendant of Michelangelo, began construction of the Casa Buonarroti, a house museum in dedication to his famous relative which is still in operation today. For the gallery, Buonarroti commissioned Artemisia Gentileschi to paint a mural. For this, her first-ever commission, Gentileschi painted Allegory of Inclination, a painting of a female nude that hung on the ceiling of the gallery. But a few decades later, the nude figure was altered by the addition of blue drapery painted over the figure to cover her private parts. 

With the support of Calliope Arts and collector Christian Levett, Casa Buonarroti has launched a new art restoration project aptly titled “Artemisia UpClose,” for which a team of restorers has been working on the mural for the past year. While the addition of the drapery cannot be removed, the project has also created a digital reinterpretation of Gentileschi’s original work through diagnostic investigations. The restored work alongside its recreation are both the highlights of the exhibition, “Artemisia in the Museum of Michelangelo”, which is currently on view through January 8th at Casa Buonarroti. 

The cover-up of Gentileschi’s Inclination was decided upon by Leonardo da Buonarroto, the great-nephew of Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger. According to a statement put out by Calliope Arts, Leonardo added the heavy swirling veils because he felt uncomfortable showing a naked female body to his family. He thus hired Baldassarre “Il Volterrano” Franceschini to fix the work with drapery in order to preserve the modesty of the female inhabitants of the house

Photo: Courtesy of the Casa Buonarroti, Florence.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Allegory of Inclination (1816), with contours traced in visible light and using diagnostic ph

But why host an exhibition about revealing the Gentileschi work and then not remove the veils physically? The head conservator of the project, Elizabeth Wicks, inquired in a statement. “First, the removal of the thick layers of oil paint applied by Il Volterrano less than five decades after the original could put Artemisia’s delicate glazes just underneath the over-paint at risk," said Wicks. "Second, the veils were applied by an important late Baroque artist and are now part of the painting’s history.” 

To map out what Artemisia did versus what Il Volterrano did, the scientists and conservators probed the painting at 16 depths, nanometer by nanometer. They used a tool called a reflectograph to see the places in which Artemisia changed around, and they used an X-ray to see through the white lead pigment that covered the figure’s thighs. From there, they were able to sketch out an accurate representation of Artemisia’s original composition.

The scientists were able to find some exciting changes that Artemisia made, as well as learn more about her technique. They found that Artemisia used very little lapis lazuli pigment, which at the time was more costly than gold. They also found a fingerprint that dated back to the painting’s creation. Wicks concluded that “the fingerprint was made when the original paint was wet, and it is highly likely that of Artemisia herself.”

This exhibition brings the original painting down from the ceiling to eye-level, so visitors will have the first opportunity to see her work up close. In addition, the show will highlight Artemisia’s career and influence, alongside the other masterpieces in the Casa Buonarroti. 

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