An ongoing row over a sculpture of a crucified frog on show in a Bolzano museum gained momentum on Wednesday when a Catholic politician reported the work to the police for public obscenity.
Former senator Renzo Gubert made the complaint about the metre-high work by late German artist Martin Kippenberger which is currently on show in the Bolzano museum of modern art, Museion.
The sculpture, which depicts a warty, pop-eyed amphibian nailed to a cross with a frothing mug of beer in one hand, has been at the centre of heated polemics ever since it went on display in May.
But the row has heated up over the last week after Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in the nearby town of Bressanone for his summer holiday.
Right-wing separatist party the Union for South Tyrol said Wednesday it had collected 10,000 signatures supporting the removal of the work, while the president of Trentino-Alto Adige regional council, Franz Pahl, entered his eighth day of a hunger strike in protest over the frog.
Local bishop Wilhelm Egger - a strong critic of the work from the start - said on Tuesday that he had discussed the sculpture with the pope, although he would not comment on the pontiff's views on the matter.
Provincial president Luis Durnwalder called for an end to polemics on Wednesday.
''We've always supported the Museion's mission to spread knowledge of contemporary art in Alto Adige, but that mission should not be accomplished through pure provocation,'' he said.
''The principles of respect for popular feeling and of artistic freedom have to find a reciprocal tolerance through good will and with understanding from both sides,'' he said.
But curators at Museion have so far refused to remove the frog from public display.
''Museion opposes the exploitation of the work for political propoganda,'' it said in a statement on Wednesday.
Curators have previously explained that Kippenberger's work is a self-portrait of the artist ''in a state of profound crisis'' and is not an attack on religious feeling.
This is the second time the Bolzano museum has been in trouble for displaying a controversial work.
In 2006 Museion officials found themselves in court over an installation by Roman artists goldiechiari (Eleonora Chiari and Sara Goldschmied) that involved a toilet flushing to the musical accompaniment of Italy's national anthem.