Rome spares Iranian president's blushes by covering nude statues

Sculptures in Capitoline Museum obscured by large white panels for Hassan Rouhani’s meeting with Italian PM

Italian officials keen to spare the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, any possible offence on his visit to Rome covered up nude statues at the city’s Capitoline Museum, where Rouhani met Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister.

Photographs of Monday’s visit show both men standing near a grand equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor. Nude statues in the vicinity were covered by large white panels.

Nude statues covered at #rome Capitoline museum for visit of #iran's #rouhani https://t.co/LTZ6j6SfYX via @Agenzia_Ansa

— JosephineMcKenna (@JosephineMcK) January 26, 2016

A spokesman for Renzi did not immediately return a request for comment. A spokesman for the city of Rome, which manages the museum, said any decision regarding the ceremony with Rouhani and display of artwork had been made by the prime minister’s office.

The decision to cover the artwork was seen as a sign of respect for the Iranian president, according to the Italian news agency Ansa. Not everyone agreed.

“Respect for other cultures cannot and must not mean negating our own,” said Luca Squeri, a lawmaker in Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party. “This isn’t respect, it’s cancelling out differences and it’s a kind of surrender.”

In another placatory gesture by Italian officials, alcohol was not served at an official dinner held in Rouhani’s honour, abiding by a standard diplomatic gesture for visiting Muslim dignitaries.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani meets the Pope in Rome

Rouhani’s visit to Europehis first since sanctions were lifted in Iran – was supposed to take place in November but was delayed following the Paris terror attacks. On Tuesday, he had a private meeting with Pope Francis and other top church officials where the two leaders held “cordial” talks, the Vatican said, adding that the two men shared “common spiritual values”.

While the meeting was rare, it was not unprecedented. The last meeting between a pope and Iranian head of state took place in 1999 and the Vatican has long maintained diplomatic relations with Iran even as the republic was shunned by much of the western world.

The two leaders discussed the conclusion and implementation of the nuclear deal - which Pope Francis strongly endorsed - and the important role Iran and other countries in the Middle East play in seeking “political solutions” to the problems that plague the region, as well as stopping the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking.

The meeting lasted about 40 minutes and included an exchange of gifts. The pope received a hand-made carpet from the city of Qom and a book of reproductions by painter Mahmoud Farshchian, while Rouhani was given a medallion of St Martin and copies of the pope’s encyclical on the environment, in English and Arabic.

“I thank you very much for the visit. I have high hopes in peace,” the pope told Rouhani, according to the Catholic News Service. Rouhani responded by asking the pope to pray for him. Rouhani is set to visit Rome’s other big attraction on Wednesday with a planned trip to the Coliseum, which he will visit with Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini.

Europe was Iran’s largest trading partner before the imposition of sanctions. More than 100 Italian executives met top Iranian officials during the Rome visit, and Italian infrastructure companies agreed to at least €17bn of deals and investments.

It was not the first time that Renzi – a Florentine who is usually a proud advocate for Italy’s rich cultural heritage – has sought to be culturally sensitive in a high-stakes meeting. In October, a cordon was placed around a nude statue by the American artist Jeff Koons during a visit to Florence by Renzi and Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

It was noted at the time that another sculpture – Michelangelo’s David – remained uncovered throughout.

Contributor

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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