Yesterday, as part of his tour of Europe, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Rome’s Capitoline Museums, where he met Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi. A member of his staff uploaded an impressive photograph of the museum’s iconic equestrian statue to his Instagram, but Rouhani never managed to see a number of the institution’s most ’grammed and treasured marble sculptures, which museum officials covered up in anticipation of his visit, for fear that their nudeness might offend him.
As Italian news site Corriere reported, a number of statues — including the museum’s famed Capitoline Venus — were kept hidden under minimalist white boxes, inadvertently transforming the museum’s hallowed hallways into an unauthorized Donald Judd installation. It also closed a gallery housing Pietro da Cortona’s 1627 painting “The Rape of the Sabine Women” and the Halls of the Horti Lamiani, filled with impeccably chiseled, but alas, wholly exposed nipples belonging to the likes of the Esquiline Venus and a couple of sea centaurs. The censorship is apparently part of a “blackout” of nudes arranged by the museum in agreement with Renzi’s office as a sign of respect for Iranian culture. According to Corriere, a toast during a dinner held in honor of Rouhani was also void of alcohol.
Italians were quick to object to the cover-ups, describing the action as a renouncement of their culture. Many took to Twitter, flooding the social network with images of nude sculptures accompanied by the hashtag #statuenude. Local politicians also chimed in; MP Daniele Capezzone, for instance, said the censorship introduced “a touch of the ridiculous” to Rouhani’s visit.
“Italy bowing down to the Iranians like this is embarrassing,” Capezzone said. “Is Italy reduced to this? And to not serve wine, again so as not to ‘offend’?”
Gianluca Peciola, another local politician, was so outraged that he launched an online petition calling on Renzi to immediately explain what he considers a disgrace and humiliation in the name of art and culture, writing that national principles had been severely violated and compromised. As of press time, it has received nearly 800 signatures.
Rouhani plans to fly to Paris following his tour of Italy. Unless the French government has plans to follow the Italians’ lead, the president would do well to avoid the Louvre and the gardens of Versailles.
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