To comic book fans, the name Raphael means one thing, and one thing only.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
But when Tony Perottett of Slate.com visited the Vatican, he found something else, something hidden, something previous inhabitants had tried to whitewash over, literally.
An erotic comic strip painted across the walls and ceilings of a bathroom, by the great Renaissance artist and architect Raphael in 1516, commissioned byCardinal Bibbiena, a man who wrote rude plays and was a bit of a player himself. He asked Rafael to recreate the pagan imagery being unearthed in Roman excavations.
It was later whitewashed over, and the room used as a kitchen, until it was rediscovered in 1870... and then hidden. Perottett talks about his arduous journey to get inside... and what he discovered.
That tight, vaulted room?twice as high as its 8-foot width?was covered with cavorting naked deities. Raphael had designed his frescoed panels like a graphic novel, recounting the adventures of Venus, the goddess of love, and Cupid, the god of erotic desire, for Cardinal Bibbiena to admire as he lounged in his hot tub. At knee level, the original silver faucet was crafted into the face of a leering satyr. One panel showed the naked goddess stepping daintily stepped into her foam-fringed shell. In others, she admires herself in a mirror, lounges between Adonis? legs and swims in sensual abandon. A couple of the frames, even more risqué, have been destroyed. One, recorded by an early visitor, showed Vulcan attempting to rape Minerva.There have been no images released to the public, Slate runs an artist's recreation of the scene inside.
Embarrassingly, I had to ask the monsignor to stand aside, so I could get a proper view of the most notorious image, of the randy goat-god Pan leaping from the bushes with a monstrous erection. I was shocked to see that the image had been vandalized. Someone had etched out Pan?s manhood and filled in the gap with white paint. This, of course, made the object even larger and more noticeable?another parable about the futility of censorship.