The head of the Italian museum housing Michelangelo's David criticised on Monday "twisted minds" who equated nudity with pornography, after a US teacher was forced out for showing pupils the statue.
Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Accademia in Florence, said the row showed a "huge ignorance" about art history, and was the product of "misplaced puritanism".
A school principal in Tallahassee, Florida, was forced to resign last week following complaints that her class of 11 and 12-year-olds was shown a picture of the naked statue of David.
One parent reportedly said the image was pornographic.
"This is absolutely astonishing because we are talking about the icon of the Renaissance, Michelangelo's David, which has been recognised across the world for generations," Hollberg said in a telephone interview.
She said the statue was hailed for its beauty and "purity", adding: "One must have a twisted mind to combine nudity with what was suggested, because obviously there is a big difference between nudity and pornography."
The director decried "a huge ignorance" about history and the history of art which, "more than anything, is quite sad".
Florence mayor Dario Nardella, for his part, condemned the US row as "simply ridiculous".
Michelangelo's David, sculpted between 1501 and 1504 from a single block of marble, depicts the Biblical hero David, who killed the giant Goliath with his sling, and is considered an emblem of the Italian Renaissance.
"Anyone who feels disturbed by this has a serious problem with the roots of Western culture," Hollberg said.
She warned that "we are really losing our connection with our culture and history ... to think that once in Greece, at the Olympic Games, everyone was naked!"
The Tallahassee Classical School principal, Hope Carrasquilla, was told to resign or be sacked.
Barney Bishop, chairman of the school board, confirmed that the art class "was an issue, along with many others".
But he told CNN that "we aren't trying to ban the picture".
He said David's image was used every year in the Renaissance Art class. But this year, contrary to procedure, parents had not been notified in advance.
While almost all the parents in the class concerned were happy with the lesson, he said, the school did receive some complaints.
"We think it's beautiful, but we are going to make sure the concept of parental rights is supreme in Florida and at our charter school," Bishop said.
In a nationwide US debate, Florida emphasises parental rights in education - a policy driven by Governor Ron DeSantis, who is forecast to run against Donald Trump to become the Republican Party candidate for the 2024 presidential election.
"It saddens me that my time here had to end this way," Carrasquilla told a local newspaper, Tallahassee Democrat. - AFP