(b. 1477, Vercelli, d. 1549, Siena)

Life of St Benedict, Scene 19: Benedict Sends away the Harlots

Abbazia, Monteoliveto Maggiore

Scene 19 of the cycle on the life of St Benedict depicts Benedict sending away the harlots that the monk Florentius sent into the monastery.

According to the documents, Sodoma started working in the southwest corner of the cloister, his first painting was Scene 19, next to the last scene by Signorelli (Scene 20).

The scenes in which the community is confronted with a group of voluptuous women (Scene 19) and two of the brothers gorge themselves at a nearby inn (Scene 25) stand out with their brighter colours and rich details.

The most scandalous episode Vasari includes in his discussion of Sodoma's stay at Monteoliveto Maggiore has to do with the picture showing the evil Florentius's attempt to corrupt his fellow monks (Scene 19). To expose the brothers to temptation, the sources tell us, Florentius sneaked seven naked harlots into the monastery. Vasari insists that Sodoma actually painted the women nude, hiding his picture from the eyes of the monks until it was finished. At its unveiling, the abbot was so enraged by Sodoma's affront to propriety that he demanded that the work be destroyed. The painter ultimately managed to appease him by agreeing to put clothes on the offending nudes. Although there is no evidence of such last-minute changes to the painting, the story may have a certain amount of truth to it, for the notion of "seven naked girls" comes straight from the Golden Legend.