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Italy. It wouldn’t be the first time Matteo Renzi hid nude sculptures for a Muslim guest.

Modest marbles

“The shame of Rome.” “Ridicule of Rome.” “The Italian joke.” Those were some of the headlines in the German, British and American press. But the most amusing comment about the decision from the prime minister’s office to hide nude sculptures in the Capitoline Museums that could embarrass Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came directly from an Iranian citizen, via Twitter: “With all the contracts signed, we expected that the Italian government would also destroy a few statues.”

Premier Matteo Renzi doesn’t feel like laughing. “Today I’ll talk about banks,” he said, dismissing those who approached him in the Senate at the end of debate on a finance-related no confidence motion. The mood has been grave in the offices of the prime minister, who is usually quite talkative. It’s clear he’s taking the incident seriously, and the blame game started immediately.

When the Minister of Cultural Heritage Dario Franceschini accompanied the Iranian president to the Colosseum, he criticized the “cover up.” Finding himself in the middle of the controversy, he harshly condemned the “incomprehensible choice.” Then, unsolicited, he joined Renzi’s position: “Neither the prime minister nor myself were informed.”

But is that true?

The Capitoline superintendents explained to reporters that “the concealment of the statues was not our decision. It was organized by Chigi Palace [the prime minister’s residence], not us.” And in fact, the museum was closed to the public before Rouhani’s arrival, the staff was replaced with security guards and the ceremonial was studied for some time. It seems that the real concern was not so much the possibility that Rouhani would gaze upon a naked figure, but that his opponents in Iran might exploit images of him and Renzi standing in the Marcus Aurelius room.

After Franceschini’s claim of ignorance, attention refocused on Chigi Palace. Could it be possible that Renzi and his closest collaborators, notorious micromanagers, knew nothing? Paolo Aquilanti, the secretary general of Chigi Palace, who has a mandate to “ensure accountability and provide all clarifications as soon as possible.” He’ll have to find someone to blame.

Meanwhile, the Iranian president left for Paris on Tuesday, where, according to newscasters, he would not have lunch with President François Hollande because the French do not accept a meal without wine.

In a news conference, Rouhani had to answer a question about it. “It’s an issue made up by journalists,” he said, and denied that his staff had made such a request. But then, he offered a version of events somewhat embarrassing for Rome: “The Italians are a very hospitable people who do everything to make their guests comfortable, and we thank them.”

There is a precedent of a little over three months ago that can shed light on the responsibilities of the prime minister.

In October, Renzi welcomed Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, in Florence. He gave instructions to have a Jeff Koons sculpture at Palazzo Vecchio covered. It was also a nude.

Rouhani and Renzi in a press conference under the giant Marco Aurelio's statue in Rome - photo LaPresse
Rouhani and Renzi in a press conference under the giant Marco Aurelio’s statue in Rome – photo LaPresse

 

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