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Sexism row in Italy after former PM Conte unveils ‘offensive and humiliating’ bronze statue of woman

Sexism row in Italy after former PM Conte unveils ‘offensive and humiliating’ bronze statue of scantily clad woman in a transparent dress to honour 19th century poem

  • The statue, of a woman in a transparent dress, was revealed in Sapri on Saturday
  • It honours La Spigolatrice di Sapri – a poem about an ill-fated invasion of Naples
  • But the ‘offensive’ portrayal has sparked outrage online, with calls for demolition


A sexism row has erupted in Italy after former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unveiled an ‘offensive and humiliating’ bronze statue of a scantily clad woman to honour a 19th century poem. 

The statue, of a peasant woman in a transparent dress that clings to her body, was revealed on Saturday in Sapri, southern Italy. 

It apparently honours La Spigolatrice di Sapri (The Gleaner of Sapri), a poem written by Luigi Mercantini in 1858 about an ill-fated invasion of the Kingdom of Naples. 

The poem is written from the point of view of a woman working in the fields in Sapri who catches sight of the approaching boat of Carlo Pisacane and his 300 men. 

She meets Pisacane and they fall in love. She then joins the troops, following them into the combat and narrating their helpless massacre.  

But the statue, by Emanuele Stifano, has been branded ‘offensive and humiliating’ in an outcry online – and a group of female politicians have called for it to be ripped down. 

Meanwhile others said they could not see the connection between Mercantini’s poem and the statue, pointing out the piece should be a tribute to the 300 men who died in the botched invasion. 

A sexism row has erupted in Italy after former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unveiled an ‘offensive and humiliating’ bronze statue of a scantily clad woman to honour a 19th century poem

Former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unveiled the statue in Sapri on Saturday

Former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unveiled the statue in Sapri on Saturday

The women, from the Democratic party’s unit in Palermo, slammed the ‘deeply sexist’ representation of the female figure and said it had nothing to do with Mercantini’s poem. 

‘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,’ the group said in a statement. 

Meanwhile Laura Boldrini, a deputy for the centre-left Democratic party, blasted the statue as an ‘offence to women the history it should celebrate’. 

‘But how can even the institutions accept the representation of a woman as a sexualised body?’, she wrote on Twitter. 

Pictures from the unveiling showed a bemused Conte surrounded by a largely male entourage as he revealed the statue.

Others said they could not see the connection between the statue and the poem. 

‘I like both [the poem and the statue], but can’t see the connection’, one user wrote. 

Another said: ‘Only in Italy a statue of an agrarian laborer, in memory of a massacre of 300 ppl, could take this form. 2021 in #Sapri.’

The statue apparently honours La Spigolatrice di Sapri (The Gleaner of Sapri), a poem written by Luigi Mercantini in 1858 about an ill-fated invasion of the Kingdom of Naples, though many people online said they could not see the connection

The statue apparently honours La Spigolatrice di Sapri (The Gleaner of Sapri), a poem written by Luigi Mercantini in 1858 about an ill-fated invasion of the Kingdom of Naples, though many people online said they could not see the connection 

Sculptor Stifano defended his piece saying in a statement on Facebook that he ‘always tends to cover the human body as little as possible, regardless of gender’.

He said he wished the statue could have been ‘completely naked… because I am a lover of the human body’ and that he was inspired by the sea wind to create a dress that appeared to be billowing in the breeze. 

He added the transparent design was approved by the local authority and that it was intended to ‘represent an ideal of a woman, evoke her pride, the awakening of a consciousness.’

And in an apparent jab at critics he said it was ‘useless’ to try to explain the statue to people who ‘only want to see depravity’. 

He provided no further explanation for why the poem, known for the line ‘they were three hundred, they were young and strong, and they are dead’, inspired a statue of a scantily clad woman. 

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