Anger grows in Italy over covering nudes for Iran's Rouhani

Wed Jan 27, 2016 3:53pm GMT

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - In the 16th century, Daniele da Volterra was mocked by contemporary artists for agreeing to paint loincloths on Michelangelo's nudes in the Sistine Chapel. Italian protocol officials must now know how da Volterra felt.

Italy's opposition leaders, commentators and media grew increasingly vocal in their criticism on Wednesday of ancient nude statues being covered by white boxes in Rome's city hall and museum complex for a visit by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani.

Italian newspapers ran photographs of the boxes on their front pages and even the minister of culture called the decision "incomprehensible". He suggested a different venue could have been chosen to host Rouhani, who signed up to 17 billion euros (dollars) of business deals on his two-day trip.

"Covering those nudes covered Italy in ridicule," was the front-page headline in Il Giornale, a leading opposition paper.

Neither Culture Minister Dario Franceschini nor Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had been informed of the decision, Franceschini said. The Iranian embassy had asked for the statues to be covered and officials in Renzi's office had agreed without consulting their bosses, Italian media reported.

Renzi's office said it had started an internal investigation into the matter. A spokesman said he had no information about whether Iran had asked for the statues to be covered.

Asked about the clash of cultures at a news conference before leaving Italy, Rouhani said he knew nothing about it and thanked Italy for being "very hospitable".

Francesco Rutelli, a former Rome mayor and culture minister, said covering the statues was "total idiocy and a cultural sacrilege". "You can't erase history. It would have been enough to have him go in another way," he said.   Continued...

Iran President Hassan Rouhani (L) talks with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the Campidoglio palace in Rome, Italy, January 25, 2016.  REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
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