He met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome’s Capitoline Museums — where large white boxes covered up exhibits of nude statues from ancient Rome. The cover-up has incensed the Italian public and has even united the country’s diverse political parties in a rare show of unity.
Giorgia Meloni, a former minister in the government of ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and president of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, said the move “exceeded all limits of decency” and posted on Facebook that “the only thing to cover is the face of Renzi, not our classic statues.”
Rome tour guide Barbara Nacinelli posted a scathing indictment of the action on her Facebook page, and it seems to represent the views of many of my Italian friends, who are lighting up the Internet with their condemnations. I have translated and condensed Nacinelli’s message:
“Renzi, shame on you!! Shame on you for cheating on the whole of Italy, our culture, our roots, our art and our beauty! And with all that you have betrayed the deeper sense of our civilization! Shame on you! For not having proudly wanted to show what we are! I think it only right to adapt to local customs when you go to visit elsewhere, but to give up one’s identity to please a guest is also stupid and even disrespectful (you) . . . claim a modesty that we don’t have! Italy is not so!! Italy is more free, infinitely more intelligent, infinitely more dignified than this shameful little play! And, above all, Italy is proud, proud, of its works of art and proud of its civilization, and all rights connected with it . . . because it is thanks to this civilization that we’re free! Keeping those statues covered means that you’re not proud of our civilization.”
However, it is possible that even Renzi agrees with the Italian public’s scathing disapprobation, because the day after Rouhani’s visit, Italy’s culture minister Dario Franceschini criticized as “incomprehensible” the decision to cover up the naked statues. Franceschini said that neither he nor Renzi were informed about the decision, which was apparently taken by lower-ranking officials in a bid to avoid offending the visiting leader.
“I think there easily would have been other ways to not offend an important foreign guest without this incomprehensible choice of covering up the statues,” Franceschini said at a press interview.
President Rouhani said the Iranians had not requested any such measures. “There were no contacts about this,” he told Italian reporters. “I know that Italians are a very hospitable people, a people who try to do the most to put their guests at ease and I thank you for this.”