Italian statue of scantily-clad woman sparks sexism row

The statue of Emanuele Stifano dedicated to the Spigolatrice (Gleaner) in Sapri
The statue portrays a woman in a transparent dress with her right arm over her breasts

A bronze statue of a scantily-clad woman to honour a 19th Century poem has sparked a sexism row in Italy, with politicians calling for its removal.

The sculpture in the southern town of Sapri is a tribute to La Spigolatrice di Sapri (The Gleaner of Sapri), written by Luigi Mercantini in 1857. It portrays a woman in a transparent dress with one arm over her breasts.

Congresswoman Laura Boldrini said the statue was “an offense to women and to the history it should celebrate”.

“How can even institutions accept the representation of women as a sexualised body? Male chauvinism is one of the evils of Italy,” Ms Boldrini, a member of the Chamber of Deputies from the centre-left Democratic Party, said on Twitter.

The poem is written from the point of view of a female gleaner – someone who collected grain left in fields by harvesters. The gleaner leaves her job to join the failed expedition of Italian revolutionary Carlo Pisacane against the Kingdom of Naples, which led to 300 deaths. The statue was unveiled on Sunday at a ceremony attended by local and national politicians, including former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

A group of female politicians from the Democratic Party’s Palermo unit called for the statue to be demolished, saying in a statement: “Once again, we have to suffer the humiliation of seeing ourselves represented in the form of a sexualised body, devoid of soul and without any connection with the social and political issues of the story.”

Separately, Monica Cirinnà, a senator from the party, called the sculpture a “slap in the face to history and to women who are still only sexualised bodies”.

“This statue of the Gleaner says nothing about the self-determination of the woman who chose not to go to work in order to stand up against the Bourbon oppressor,” she said on Twitter.

But the mayor of Sapri, Antonio Gentile, has defended the statue on Facebook, saying it was “made with skill and impeccable interpretation” by the artist Emanuele Stifano, and that his city was “not willing to question its values, principles and traditions”.

Also on Facebook, Stifano said he was “appalled and disheartened” by the criticism. He defended the sculpture, saying he “always tends to cover the human body as little as possible” in his works, “regardless of gender”.

In this case, he said, he “took advantage of the sea breeze” to “highlight the body” and that the statue was intended to “represent an ideal of a woman, evoke her pride, the awakening of a consciousness”. The design, he added, had been approved by the authorities.

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