After being daintily covered for almost 300 years with vines and grapes that were added to obscure his nakedness, Bronzinos 16th-century depiction of the famed dwarf Morgante, jester to the Medici court, has been stripped by conservators to be displayed in its full nude glory. Officials from Florence’s Uffizi museum have unveiled the freshly restored work and included it in the artist’s first-ever (shockingly) retrospective in Italy, allowing visitors see what was once hidden from the public, according to Discovery News.
Known as "The Portrait of the Dwarf Morgante," the painting is especially unusual in that it is a double-sided work, providing views of the plump dwarf, who was a member of the Medici court, from both front and back. On the front side he is shown holding an owl while standing in almost complete frontal-nudity, his genitals covered only by a moth that happens by. On the obverse, Bronzino depicted the mustachioed dwarf’s exposed backside, with the little owl perched on his shoulder.
According to historians, Morgante was the prized entertainer of Cosimo I de' Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany. Art historian Giorgio Vasari noted that the dwarf was "clever, learned and very kind, the favorite of our Duke." Dwarves were typically treated as property in the Florentine court and "suffered humiliation and physical violence," according to art historian Sefy Hendler, though Cosimo took the unusual step of giving his jester land and granting him the right to marry.
Bronzino was not the only artist to be charmed by Morgante. The sculptor Giambologna portrayed him atop a ferocious dragon, while Valerio Cioli instead opted to create a sculpture of him on top of a tortoise. Vasari found Bronzino’s work to be especially captivating, though, describing the depiction of the dwarf’s "bizarre and monstrous members" as "beautiful and marvelous."