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The hallways of the Musei Capitolini (screenshot via CorriereTV)

Earlier this week, the Musei Capitolini in Rome found itself at the center of a controversy as news spread worldwide of the censorship of some of its famous nude statues in anticipation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the institution. While widely reported as a means to avoid offending the dignitary, the measure has stirred trouble of another kind in the Italian capital, with — unsurprisingly — all parties denying responsibility for it and an internal investigation now underway.

According to The Local, both Rouhani and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi denied knowing about the seemingly Minimalism-inspired transformation, in which someone ordered that the marble sculptures be hidden beneath white boxes during Rouhani’s tour. Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini labelled the deed “incomprehensible,” and attempted to distance Renzi’s office from the matter.

“I never spoke about it being the responsibility of the Capitoline superintendents,” Franceschini told Corriere.it. “It’s clear that there was an excess of zeal on the part of those in charge of organizing such events, who made the decision, without telling, as I already said, either the prime minister or I.”

Hassan Rouhani and Matteo Renzi (images via Wikipedia)

The Iranian President also said he had “no contact on the subject” with Italian authorities, but did not seem affected by the restrictions imposed on some of the greatest cultural gems from antiquity in his name.

“I know that the Italians are very hospitable, a people who seek to make their guests’ visits as pleasant as possible, and I thank them for that,” Rouhani told reporters.

Paolo Aquilanti, secretary general to Renzi, has ordered an investigation in an attempt to settle the situation, just as some members of the public have called on those responsible for the veiling be held accountable. The Italian media is now spotlighting Ilva Sapora, who since 2013 has directed the office in charge of organizing state ceremonies and honors, examining her for a number of other political slip-ups. According to La Stampa, Sapora — who, the paper notes, does not speak English although her job necessitates speaking with many foreign delegations — forgot to invite an important Kuwaiti general to a dinner held in honor of last September’s Eurofighter deal between Kuwait and Italy. Sapora was also allegedly involved in a scandal last December in which Italian diplomats were accused of accepting pricey Rolex watches as gifts from Saudi officials, in violation of Italian law.

The investigation is already shaping up to be a complicated one, which simply shows that Italian officials have not yet learned the quick-and-easy solution to deploy when your team slips up: blame the young intern.

The incident follows a similar controversy that occurred just last October. Officials, as The Local reported, deemed Jeff Koons’ “Gazing Ball (Barberini Faun)” at the Palazzo Vecchio too risqué for the eyes of the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. They used — of all things — a windbreaker bearing the fleur de lis to cover up the sculpture’s anatomically explicit manspread. Curiously, that instance of censorship, then reported as the result of a decision by Renzi’s office, did not receive as much attention as this most recent fiasco.

The Salle des Illustres in Toulouse’s city hall, with a sculpture adorned with a fig leaf at right. (photo by @lena.roncalli/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

The stylized lily actually seems to be a popular visual to use for censorship: in another effort to shroud marble members, paper fleurs de lis and fig leafs embellished the groins of statues in the Salle des Illustres in Toulouse’s city hall during a blood drive on Saturday. As La Depeche reported, the cutouts were the work of the drive’s organizers, who found the sculptures too sexual for their event.

On this side of the Atlantic, one public sculpture is a regular for being kept under drapes by US politicians: the Department of Justice’s Spirit of Justice statue, which depicts a bare-breasted Lady Justice, spent three years under $8,000 curtains during Attorney General John Ashcroft’s tenure so photos and videos of him delivering speeches would remain nipple-free. While Ashcroft’s successor removed the drapes in 2005, Lady Justice hid in darkness again in 2014, during Obama’s major speech regarding revisions to the NSA’s operations.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

3 replies on “After Sculpture Censorship Fiasco, Italian Officials Fail to Uncover the Naked Truth”

  1. What is supposed to happen, if these very sensible people by accident should see some nudity, some of Gods creation? Will they die, or maybe just faint like little old ladies? Get blisters on their eyes?

  2. It is, of course, appropriate to accommodate a state visitor as much as is possible and reasonable. For instance, it would be unthinkable, in this case, not to provide Halal meals.

    My question, then, would be, what was the purpose of his visit to the museum in the first place?

    And, on the matter of censorship, when I visited the Vatican museum, the male parts of lovely statues were covered with ugly plaster fig leaves.

    My question on that would be, if a statue is not deemed fit to be shown as the artist made it, why show, or own it, at all?

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