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“Braghettone” stars in an exhibition in Rome: he put underwear on Michelangelo’s Last Judgement

by Andrea Carli

Art historians remember him as the painter who covered the genitals of the figures in Michelangelo’s masterpiece the Last Judgement in with pieces of fabric and fig leaves, in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Daniele Ricciarelli (1509-1566), better known as Daniele da Volterra, did this at Pope Paul IV’s request.

In 1565, in fact, the Council of Trent condemned the portrayal of nudity in religious art. Because of this act of censorship, the artist was given the nickname “Braghettone,” of “drawers” from “brache,” Italian for britches, drawers -- or what we would call today “underwear.” Most of these breeches were painted in tempera over the original fresco, and thus remained intact under the repainting.

Braghettone is the star of the exhibition that opens today in Rome at the National Gallery of Ancient Art at Palazzo Barberini, one of the most important buildings of the Baroque period.
“Daniele da Volterra and the first touchstone” recounts the painter’s artistic career, from his early experiences with the Sienese school, particularly Il Sodoma and Baldassare Peruzzi, to his Roman years, first as apprentice to Perino del Vaga, and later in Michelangelo’s circle.

Some of Daniele da Volterra’s paintings were based on sketches and drawings by his master Michelangelo. Daniele’s first assignment were the frescoes for the Orsini Chapel in the church of Trinità dei Monti in Rome, in 1541.

His most famous painting, the Descent from the Cross (circa 1545), is here on show. Among his other works are a painting portraying David slaying Goliath (around 1555), housed today at the Louvre in Paris (also based on drawings by Michelangelo and long believed to have been painted by the master); the Massacre of the Innocents (1557), now in the Uffizi in Florence; a portrait of Michelangelo; and a bust of Michelangelo sculpted from the artist’s death mask.

Daniele da Volterra worked as a sculptor on friezes in the Massimo and Farnese Palaces in Rome. In the Sistine Chapel, on the other hand, “Braghettone” chiseled away the images of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Biagio, both by Michelangelo.

Why? Quite simply, because Saint Biagio seems to be staring at the woman’s naked back, something that the Roman Catholic Church of the time could not put up with.

(”Daniele da Volterra and the first touchstone,” National Gallery of Ancient Art at Palazzo Barberini in Rome, until February 28, 2015)