Italy’s culture minister has criticized as “incomprehensible” the decision to cover up naked statues at a Rome museum where Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was visiting, adding a new twist to the controversy that has dominated Rouhani’s deal-making visit to Italy.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told reporters Wednesday that neither he nor Premier Matteo Renzi were informed about the decision, which was apparently taken by lower-ranking officials in a bid to avoid offending the visiting leader. The cover-up involved the placement of several wooden panels to shield nude statues at Rome’s Capitoline Museums, where Rouhani and Renzi held a joint press conference Monday.
The measures made headlines across Italy and prompted some politicians to accuse the government of caving into “cultural submission.”
“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,” Franceschini said. He spoke to reporters at the Colosseum, where he gave Rouhani a guided tour before the Iranian delegation left for France.
Rouhani, for his part, said the Iranians hadn’t requested any such measures by saying “there were no contacts about this.” But he seemed to appreciate the gesture.
“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,” he told reporters when asked about the cover-up.
Rouhani’s visit was aimed at pushing Iran into a more prominent role on the world stage after the nuclear deal with Western powers ended most European economic sanctions on Tehran.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.