Pope Francis is set to be greeted by a bare-breasted image of a nun on an official visit to Naples next weekend.
The image, which shows a woman dressed in a nun's habit and jeans, clutching rosary beads with her naked breasts exposed, appears on a giant 20ft x 30ft billboard several storeys up in the city centre.
It has been placed there as part of an advertising campaign by fashion label Rosso di Sera, a week ahead of the Pope's arrival in the southern Italian city..
But residents and Catholic officials have reacted angrily to the move, with some demanding that it is taken down before the papal visit.
One local man described it as an “ugly image”, while a woman walking by the advert told Il Sole 24 Ore it could have been made “a bit less obscene”.
One Facebook user said: "I am an atheist but I find it offensive to intelligence, to women, to good taste and to faith."
And others described the timing of the placement as "inopportune".
The firm has denied claims that it has been erected deliberately, and said in a statement that while they recognise that they have made "a strong marketing choice", there was "no intent to blaspheme".
"Trivialising the act of prayer was not the intention in any way," the company added. It also said that it "strongly regrets being accused of things extremely far from our values and our culture," Reuters reported.
According to Italian media, the company said it might be willing to remove it if asked to do so by a national advertising disciplinary body.
The Pope will visit Naples on March 21, and will also visit Pompeii.
Independent News Service