ROME, Italy (CNN) -- When Anna Elisa Fattori arrives at work the first thing she does is to take off her clothes. All of them. For Fattori is a professional nude model working at Rome's art academy.
Anna Elisa Fattori: "You are trying to give inspiration to the students."
"It is a tough job!" she tells me just before beginning to pose for a group of students, eager to paint her gracious figure. There is something striking about her bright green eyes and wavy red hair.
"It doesn't seem to be hard, but you know, try it! Put yourself in front of the mirror and then stay for a long time in a pose. You start: 'Oh my back, oh something is strange here...'" she says, mimicking pain on her lower back.
Fattori is one of about 300 people in Italy who do this job, but only about 50 of them have full-time contracts. She makes the equivalent of about $1,500 each month, but only works three months per year. And that is why she and others recently went on strike, demanding a full-time wage for work they say not everyone can do.
"It is not easy because you are naked, so you have to be very comfortable with your body and have a nice relationship with everybody," she says as the students look on, "but not too open and not too close. You are trying to give inspiration to the students. If we lose these artistic roots that are very important to Italy then we lose a big part of our identity."
Italian Renaissance art is filled with naked men and women: Think of Michelangelo's David or Botticelli's Venus. But back then artists mostly used prostitutes and lovers as models and muses, often with the complicity of priests who wanted the walls of their churches painted by famous names.
"Priests allowed prostitutes to use churches," explains Enrico Bruschini, one of Rome's best known art historians. "Officially it was to convert them, but the practical reason was to have the artist at the church."
Bruschini says that the Saint Augustine church, a stone's throw from Piazza Navona, was a famous gathering point in Rome for Renaissance artists looking for "inspiration." Back then though professional modeling did not exist, and most would agree that the art didn't really suffer from its absence.
So if Botticelli and Raphael could do without professional models, what is the big deal now?
"It all started with the rise of art schools in the 19th and 20th centuries" says Fattori. "During the Renaissance you just thought that a prostitute can be a model or even a lover. But now we are here, so we need to move ahead."
Art students hoping to become the next Michelangelo agree.
"I think a person should have talent," argues Anastasia Kurakina, a first year student from Russia. "Because you, for example, you couldn't [model]... I don't know you, but Anna Elisa has talent."
Anastasia is right, I certainly couldn't do it -- but unbeknownst to me she used me as a model while I was interviewing Fattori. Thankfully I was fully dressed, so all she drew was my head. And she didn't to a bad job at that. E-mail to a friend