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Massive Cover-Up: Nude Statues In Italy Deemed Too Racy For Iran's President

On a typical day at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, a visitor might expect to see classical nude statues like this:

A picture taken on Tuesday shows a visitor walking past an ancient Roman marble statue at Rome's Capitoline Museum.
Filippo Monteforte / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on Tuesday shows a visitor walking past an ancient Roman marble statue at Rome's Capitoline Museum.

But this was the scene before Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held a news conference this week at the museum:

Out of apparent concern about offending Rouhani, white wooden boxes covered up many of the collection's ancient nudes.

It's a mystery who made the decision to cover up the art. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli tells our Newscast unit, "The question everyone's asking is, on whose orders?"

"Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said neither he nor Renzi authorized the cover-up, which he called 'incomprehensible,' " Sylvia adds.

Citing local media, Reuters reports that "the Iranian embassy had asked for the statues to be covered and officials in Renzi's office had agreed without consulting their bosses."

But Sylvia says that "Rouhani denied that specific requests had been made."

"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," Rouhani said during his trip, according to The Associated Press.

The visit comes days after the European Union and the United States lifted an array of sanctions against Iran, after Tehran reached certain benchmarks on shrinking its nuclear program.

The art cover-up is drawing outrage and ridicule from local publications. Here's what left-leaning daily La Repubblica had to say, according to Reuters: "Covering those nudes ... meant covering ourselves. Was it worth it, in order not to offend the Iranian president, to offend ourselves?"

The BBC says Italy also opted to not serve wine at official meals because of Iranian laws regarding the consumption of alcohol — "a gesture France, where Mr. Rouhani travels next, has refused to copy."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.