Artist Attacked in Italy Over Painting of Jesus Receiving Oral Sex

A simmering controversy surrounding a “blasphemous” art exhibition in the town of Carpi in northern Italy reached a boiling point on March 28, when a masked man slashed a painting of Jesus receiving oral sex from St. Longinus. He then turned the blade on the artist, Andrea Saltini, who tried to stop him. Saltini’s exhibition, Gratia Plena at Museo Diocesano in Carpi’s Church of Saint Ignatius, has garnered outrage from Catholic associations due its contentious imagery, despite the museum’s statement of support.

According to local news outlet Il Resto del Carlino, Saltini was taken to the hospital and discharged with four stitches for his injury, and the assailant remains at large.

Saltini told Hyperallergic that he’s recovering and that the exhibition would reopen as is on Saturday, April 6, but that he “must find trust in relationships with others, and repair and reconcile [his] heart” to “bring art back to the center.”

Conceived as the artist’s personal reflections on and search for spirituality, the exhibition of some 20 new works opened at the museum for religious art on March 2 with a critical introduction and hundreds of visitors. The show immediately drew ire over various works that were deemed “sacrilegious” — including the painting of post-crucifixion Jesus apparently receiving fellatio entitled “INRI (San Longino)” (2024) as well as “Noli Me Tangere” (2024), depicting a nude Jesus collapsed face-forward on the lap of the naked Mary Magdalene, among other works.

Andrea Saltini shared various works from Gratia Plena, including “Noli Me Tangere” (2024), on his Instagram page. (screenshot Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

The museum issued a statement on March 4 underscoring that the exhibition contained “no blasphemous or irreverent images.” Regardless, Catholic groups and individuals accused both Saltini and the museum of blasphemy and sacrilege in a sacred place, culminating in various protests, an attempted exorcism, a legal complaint against Bishop Erio Castellucci who approved the show, and over 30,000 signatures on a Pro Vita e Famiglia petition demanding the show’s closure.

Though the museum stood by Saltini throughout the controversy, things came to a head last Thursday when a masked man entered the exhibition and spray painted over “INRI (Saint Longinus)” before slashing it with a blade. Saltini was onsite at the time and tried to stop the man, but he managed to clip the artist on the neck with the blade before escaping.

“This episode taught me that we must accept ourselves, our wickedness, and our limits,” Saltini said in an email to Hyperallergic. “And the brevity of our life.”

The museum put out a statement expressing “its closeness and full solidarity” with Saltini on the day of the attack and a follow-up interview with Bishop Castellucci revealed that the Diocese was deliberating on the exhibition’s reopening depending on visitor supervision moving forward. Hyperallergic has contacted the museum for further comment.

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