Whether or not the paintings needed to be cleaned is certainly one issue of great importance, but even more problematic is the fact that the subjects of the paintings chosen for an overhaul are “beautiful women.” Never mind that this position is decidedly in opposition to all modern sensibilities that respect feminism – but more gauling is the idea that 500-year-old paintings should receive makeovers. The objects, at both the Palazzo Pitti in Florence (1999) and the Palazzo Barberini in Rome (2000), have undergone severe not to say over cleaning which has diminished their integrity, and ironically, their aesthetic beauty and authenticity.
In the catalogue for a mini-exhibition at the Pitti, Venere in restauro, the former minister of culture Antonio Paolucci expressed the motives of the Estée Lauder restorations: “Its [the company’s] role is to put on the market products which are able to make women look more beautiful, in such a way as to solicit the interest, jealousy, and love of men.” Paolucci explained that paintings depicting Venus are a favored subject for these targeted cleanings, with their “deliciously effective public relations message” and “erotic intrigues.” At the Pitti, the paintings subjected to these “makeovers” were Tintoretto’s Venere, Vulcano e Amore and Giovanni da San Giovanni’s Venere che pettina Amore. The company’s attention then turned towards Rome, where Raphael’s Fornarina received similar treatment. Estée Lauder has funded the diagnostic work on Titian’s La Bella, also in the Pitti, in preparation for a future restoration. If the example of the three restored paintings is any indication of what to expect for an intervention on La Bella, the entire community of museum patrons, art lovers and scholars have ample reason to rise up in arms.