Italian Press Mercilessly Ridicules Those Responsible for Classical Sculpture Cover-Up

The Italian public is also outraged.

"Even Florence prepares for Rouhani" Photo: Acutissimo (‏@Acutissimo) via Twitter
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C-L) meets with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (C-R) at the Capitol Hill in Rome Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C-L) meets with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (C-R) with uncovered statues at Capitol Hill in Rome.
Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images.

Italian political and cultural commentators have come out in droves to bash the Italian government’s censorship of nude classical Roman statues; reportedly to avoid offending Iranian president Hassan Rouhani during a state visit.

Rouhani was visiting Rome as part of his tour to meet European leaders to discuss various international business deals, after economic sanctions against Iran were lifted. The two leaders met at the Capitoline Museum for a joint press conference on Monday, where many member of the press in attendance noted that the nude statues on view in the museum had been encased in white, wooden boxes. Perhaps predictably there were a number of different reactions to this.

The New York Times pointed out that the encounter was always likely to result in a culture clash given Iran’s culture of Islamic conservatism contrasted against Italy’s Roman Catholic and secular society reputed for its indulgence.

However this assumption didn’t stop the Italian media from speculating over who was responsible for the censorship of the artworks. Some reported the cover-up was requested by the Iranian delegation, whilst others blamed Italian government officials.

Massimo Gramellini of the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa accused the Renzi government of compromising Italy’s secular values in exchange for lucrative contracts. According to the journalist’s column, the statues were covered to stop the Iranian president from suffering “hormonal shock and rip up the freshly signed contracts with our Italian industries.”

"Where did you bring me? Ikea?" Italian press mocked the incident. Photo: RampicantiStorti (‏@RampicantiSto) via Twitter.

“Where did you bring me? Ikea?” Italian press mocked the incident.
Photo: RampicantiStorti (‏@RampicantiSto) via Twitter.

Gramellini called for an end to cultural double-standards. “If an Italian woman is in Iran, she must cover her head properly. If an Iranian is in Italy, we cover the statues of women.”

Others news outlets focused on national identity. “The problem is that those statues—yes, those icons of classicism and models of humanism—are the foundation of European and Mediterranean culture and civilization,” commentator Michele Serra wrote in La Repubblica, reported by the New York Times.

He explained that to conceal the artworks “is to conceal ourselves,” adding that in avoiding offense to Rouhani, “we offended ourselves.”

Sensing an opportunity to capitalize politically the Italian opposition joined the criticism. “This submission, the surrendering of our art and culture is the essence of Renzi’s politics,” parliamentarian Renato Brunetta of the Forza Italia party said on Facebook. “You can make deals, discuss ways of achieving peace, without abdicating oneself.”

"Even Florence prepares for Rouhani" Photo: Acutissimo (‏@Acutissimo) via Twitter

“Even Florence prepares for Rouhani.”
Photo: Acutissimo (‏@Acutissimo) via Twitter

On Twitter, Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini said “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,” insisting that neither he nor Prime Minister Renzi knew of the plans.

So what did Rouhani have to say about the uproar? “I know Italians are very hospitable people and try to do everything to put their guests at ease, and I thank them for this,” he said, diplomatically.

Eyeing the public outrage in Italy, the Telegraph reported that France on the other hand refused to make concessions to the Iranian delegation. French president François Hollande abruptly cancelled a lunch at the Elysée Palace on Thursday because of Iran’s request to leave wine off the menu and serve halal meat.

The dramatic stance didn’t harm the business side of things. Hollande announced Iran agreed a deal to buy 114 Airbus aircrafts, with auto manufacturers Peugeot and Renault reportedly also close to agreeing contracts.


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