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Italy covers museum nudes for Iranian president

Italian premier Matteo Renzi has taken flak for hiding naked Roman statues from visiting leader Hassan Rouhani. Opposition politicians have accused him of "surrendering" Italy's culture.

Italian officials were the target of derision as it emerged late Tuesday that in order not to offend

visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani,

naked statues in Rome's Capitoline Museum were covered up during his visit. According to museum staff, they were asked to block the ancient artworks off with wooden panels.

The decision came ahead of a Monday press conference in which Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Rouhani both gave speeches at the museum, in front of a large statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. Considering the 17 billion euros of business deals allegedly inked between Italy and Iran during Rouhani's two-day visit, it is clear why Renzi would go to such lengths to appease the leader of the socially conservative Islamic Republic.

'Cultural submission'

Italien Staatsbesuch Hassan Rohani mit Renzi in Rom

The famed bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius was prominently featured in photographs of the event

While Renzi's office refused to comment on the incident, the move to censor the artwork drew ridicule from all sides of Italy's political spectrum.

Lawmaker Luca Squeri of the center-right Forza Italia party charged that the choice was not respect, but "surrender."

"Respect for other cultures cannot and must not mean negating our own," he said, adding that "this isn't respect; it's canceling out differences and it's a kind of surrender."

On the other side of the aisle, the far-left SEL party also condemned the act, with politician Gianluca Peciola calling on the prime minister to explain a decision the party considers "a shame and mortification for art and culture understood as universal concepts."

Going even further, the hard-right Brothers of Italy party accused Renzi of "cultural submission," of the sort that "has surpassed every limit of decency."

Beyond hiding the nudes, which included a famous depiction of Venus from the second century BC, wine was also taken off the menu for Rouhani's meals with the premier and Italian President Sergio Mattarella, as strict followers of Islam do not imbibe alcohol.

This is not the first time Renzi has shielded visiting dignitaries from the nude figures so prevalent in Roman and Italian art. Last year, when the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates visited Florence, where the prime minister was once mayor, a more modern nude statue in the town hall was covered up with a cloth.

On Wednesday, President Rouhani will

head to Paris,

where French businessmen are hoping to outdo their Italian counterparts in cementing ties with a largely untapped market as relations with Iran and the West finally begin to thaw.

es/jil (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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