Fig Leaf

Michelangelo’s wall fresco The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel of Vatican City was commissioned 30 years after he completed the ceiling of the same building. However, the prevailing attitudes of the time and the artistic movement of the Renaissance did not always line up, as is the case in The Last Judgment.

The artist was accused of immorality and obscenity, having depicted naked figures inside this most important church. So a censorship campaign, known as the Fig-Leaf Campaign was organized to remove the frescoes. After Michelangelo’s death, the nudity was censored with robes and fig leaves painted onto the work by one of his own students, Daniele da Volterra. History remembers da Volterra by the derogatory nickname “Il Braghettone,” which translates “the breeches-painter.”

Portion of the altered fresco:

Similar covers have been applied to paintings and sculptures in many cases since, causing debates between art purists and advocates for modern applications of decency.

Today, the term “fig leaf” is used to mean a cover for anything that might be considered unsavory or shameful, with the implication that the censor is only a token gesture where the truth is obvious.

Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment
Fig Leaf

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