Out of respect for Iranian President Hassam Rouhani, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had a series of nude statues at the Capitoline Museum completely covered for the leader’s visit Tuesday, which has a number of Italians hopping mad.
These were no mere fig leaves, but immense white wooden boxes that completely shielded the offending statues from the sensitive eyes of President Rouhani and the Iranian media train that has followed his trip to Italy, Italian news sources revealed. Twitter also gave its own insight:
— Alessandro Speciale (@aspeciale) January 26, 2016
— Corriere della Sera (@Corriereit) January 26, 2016
Moreover, at the banquet held in Rouhani’s honor, no wine was served at table to anyone, out of respect for the Muslim rule of abstinence.
Italian citizens were furious at what they considered an affront, and some have suggested that the error was serious enough to cause the Prime Minister political problems.
As one article noted, Italy is already playing host to the president of a regime that holds the world record for executions; that imprisons, tortures and kills political prisoners; that humiliates women; and that for decades has commissioned the assassination of dissidents. What need was there—the piece asks—to add further humiliation to the already questionable call of receiving the Iranian leader at all?
“To cover the statues of the Capitoline Museums, to cover and symbolically renounce our art and our culture,” the piece continues, “means the surrender of a country and a national and global embarrassment that no Italian citizen deserved and no business deal justifies.”
Prior to the visit to the Museum, Rouhani reportedly signed contracts with Italy worth up to $18.4 billion.
“The decision to cover the nudity of the statues at the Capitoline Museums,” said Fabio Rampelli of the Alleanza Nazionale party, “is worthy of the worst Islamist terrorist. It was a decision that offends Western culture and the supremacy of art as a vehicle of culture and freedom.”
Another essay similarly complained that Italy had “bowed down” to Rouhani and art had been “sacrificed” to a new relationship between Iran and Italy. The “astonishing tribute to the Islamic culture” was even more offensive, the article noted, by “the small amount of time dedicated in official talks to the subject of human rights and of Iranian hostilities toward Israel.”
Daniele Capezzone, deputy of the Reformed Conservative Party called the move “ridiculous” and said it was “embarrassing” that the Italian government should “bow and scrape” before the Iranian.
“Rouhani’s Iran,” Capezzone said, “is the world champion of capital punishment, a country that still wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, is a state that (regardless of recent agreements) is pursuing threatening nuclear objectives.”
Some even compared Italy unfavorably to France, because when Rouhani was invited to a formal lunch at the Élysée in Paris last November, French President Hollande refused to remove the wine from the table. The Iranian eventually bowed out of the meal when his demands for a halal, alcohol-free menu was declined.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pope Francis met with the Iranian President for 40 minutes behind closed doors, the first meeting between a pope and Iranian leader since 1999. None of the nude statues at the Vatican were covered.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome