THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Government coverup stirs Italian debate

Art historians perplexed by step by premier's team

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi in front of a reproduction of ''The Truth Unveiled by Time.'' The prime minister's staff ordered a touchup to cover part of the female figure. Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi in front of a reproduction of ''The Truth Unveiled by Time.'' The prime minister's staff ordered a touchup to cover part of the female figure. (Andrew Medichini/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Elisabetta Povoledo
International Herald Tribune / August 6, 2008

ROME - The government coverup making headlines in Italy this August has been over its clumsy attempts to hide the truth.

The truth, in this case, refers to an 18th-century allegorical figure in a painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo that serves as a backdrop for government news conferences in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's official residence.

It was retouched in recent weeks to cover an exposed breast, which "might have upset the sensitivity of some viewers," Paolo Bonaiuti, the prime minister's spokesman, told the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera over the weekend.

"That breast, that little nipple, ends up right in the shots that TVs make during press conferences," Bonaiuti said.

Bonaiuti said the touchup had been the "initiative of those who look after the prime minister's image."

The painting depicts "The Truth Unveiled by Time," and the original is in the Palazzo Chiericati in Vicenza, which houses the civic museum. A few years ago Berlusconi saw the work, liked it, and asked for a digital copy that was later enlarged, said Alessandra Bertuzzo-Lomazzi, a manager there. The painting became the backdrop for news conferences this year after Berlusconi became prime minister for the third time.

"It's a wonderful concept, that the passing of time will show who is right and who is wrong," said Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums. "It's the perfect choice of a message for a government."

But Paolucci was more perplexed by the decision to censor the image. "Between its collection of classical sculptures and Renaissance paintings, the Vatican is full of nudes," he said.

With one exception: Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel, where the genitals of the figures were covered with loincloths in the 16th century.

"That was done during the moment of greatest prudishness of the Counter-Reformation," Paolucci said of the repainting by Michelangelo's contemporary Daniele da Volterra, earning him the nickname "il Braghettone" - the breeches-maker.

The touchup on the Tiepolo is a replay of what "Daniele da Volterra did a few centuries ago," Paolucci said in a telephone interview.

Newspaper commentators have pointed out that Berlusconi, who owns Italy's three largest private television stations, has not shied away from showcasing scantily clad women in scores of television shows. And the Rome newspaper La Repubblica yesterday noted that the Culture Ministry has a very naked figure of Daphne by the Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini on its website.

And then there is tradition. From an iconographic point of view, "the truth is usually depicted nude," Bertuzzo-Lomazzi said.

"It's kind of pointless to have wanted this allegory and then to cover it up. They could have chosen another subject."

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