Milan bans 'blasphemous' poster

By Irene Peroni BBC News

Dan Brown sparked controversy with his novel based on Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper - now a French clothing company has followed suit in Italy.

The authorities in Milan have banned a billboard featuring an all-female version of the 15th Century fresco, which the fashion house itself says was inspired by the hotly debated book.

The campaign has run without controversy in both Paris and New York.

But its use of religious symbols could offend Milan, the town hall ruled.

The advert for the Marithe et Francois Girbaud fashion house features well-clad women surrounding what seems to be a female Christ. The only male in the picture is a young bare-chested man sitting on a woman's lap in a provocative pose.

Italy's advertising watchdog, the IAP, said the ad's use of Christian symbols including a dove and a chalice "inevitably recalls the very foundations of the Christian faith".

This kind of image cannot be parodied for commercial ends without offending the sensitivity of at least part of the population

Italian publicity watchdog IAP

"This kind of image cannot be parodied for commercial ends without offending the sensitivity of at least part of the population," it said.

And what is more, "One of the women apostles is kissing the naked torso of a man, which just makes the imitation more offensive."

Milan town hall said it had consulted the IAP before issuing the ban.

"We rejected a request to put up this huge billboard after getting a negative opinion from Italy's advertising self-regulating body," said Maurilio Sartor, the head of the publicity office at the Milan municipality.

"Had they given us the go-ahead, we would have put it up," he added.

'Da Vinci code'

The campaign was inspired by Brown's bestseller "The da Vinci code".

The novel is based on parchments found in the mid-1970s which later turned out to be false, claiming that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife, and that they had a child together.

A mysterious organisation, the Priory of Sion, was allegedly formed to guard this secret - and Leonardo was one of his members.

Indeed, in Da Vinci's famous fresco the figure sitting to the Christ's right - supposedly John - bears an undeniable resemblance to a woman.

Man or woman? The figure in pink should be John

Critics believe this is due to the fact that in the Renaissance, female models were used to pose for artists depicting adolescent men.

The fashion house meant to turn the painting on its head as a tribute to women and their role in society.

And while their application was rejected, observers note their spurned efforts have doubtless brought the company more publicity than if their request had been approved.

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