Correspondence

Italian Artworks Targeted by Muslims

When the Taliban in Afghanistan were busy destroying ancient gigantic stone statues of Buddha, some commentators asked: What’s next?  Now, a fundamentalist Muslim group known as Unione dei Musulmani d’Italia (Italy’s Union of Muslims) has demanded that a priceless 15th-century fresco, which they call “obscene and blasphemous,” be removed from San Petronio, the 14th-century cathedral in Bologna.

“A new Rushdie case?  Perhaps, but only six centuries late,” noted il Giornale on June 27, 2001.  On June 7, 2001, the Unione wrote Pope John Paul II and Giacomo Cardinal Biffi, the archbishop of Bologna, calling for the fresco to be destroyed and the Catholic Church to apologize to the Islamic community “in much the same way as your superior, the non-EU pontiff John Paul II, has already asked for pardon from the Jews and Orthodox Greeks.”  Neither the Vatican nor Bologna’s archbishop responded to the Unione’s letter.

The fresco depicts the sixth-century founder of Islam, Muhammad, naked and burning in the flames of Hell.  It was painted by the early Renaissance master Giovanni da Modena on the wall of the Bolognini chapel as part of a wider scene based on the Last Judgment, showing Hell with a monstrous Lucifer at the center, munching on a sinner.  To his left, a grimacing, horned demon drags the naked figure of Muhammad down...

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