Michelangelo, born on this day in 1475, is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time, but even he was not immune to the brushes of censorship. He was once described as the “inventor of obscenities” for his nude depictions of Christ and the Virgin Mary in his fresco The Last Judgement, on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. It was regarded as sacrilegious by some in the church, and upon his death, the exposed genitals were painted over by one of his apprentices. Even a plaster cast of his famous sculpture, David, was given a temporary fig leaf during visits by female royalty to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Baigio da Cesena, a papal master of ceremonies, criticized Michelangelo’s work saying “it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully.” Michelangelo worked Cesena’s face into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld with Donkey ears while his nudity is covered by a coiled snake. It is said that when Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff joked that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain. The serpent’s bite on the genitals of Minos (da Cesena) illustrates Michelangelo’s disdain for the Cardinal.