ROME — Museum officials in the Italian capital are relieved following a successful effort to spare the visiting Iranian president from the embarrassment and potential injury of seeing representations of naked bodies.
President Hassan Rouhani was scheduled to visit Rome’s Capitoline Museum with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi on Tuesday, but officials worried that the meeting could end in disaster if Rouhani accidentally glanced at one of the museum’s hundreds of nudes, which under Iranian custom would require the president to either receive 30 lashes or gouge out his own eyes.
“We were advised by the Iranian cultural attaché that President Rouhani might have difficulty not looking at an exposed marble nipple or a granite pubic mound,” said museum curator Frederico Fellaciolini. “So we took the decision to just clothe all the nudes.”
While painted nudes were easily covered by museum staff with pieces of felt, nude statues required expensive form-fitting clothing.
“We had four tailors working on the project for six weeks,” Fellaciolini said. “They made long black chadors [traditional Persian cloaks] and headscarves to cover the female statues, and male statues were dressed more casually in pleated slacks and button-down shirts.”
A spokesperson for Renzi says that adapting to a visiting head of state’s culture is a common practice in diplomatic circles.
“You know, when [former prime minister Silvio] Berlusconi used to travel abroad, he was always greeted in his stateroom by six or more underage strippers with tacky names like Diamond or Nutella, a gesture of cultural sensitivity that Signore Berlusconi greatly appreciated, and one that helped to foster warm relations with other leaders,” the spokesperson said.
The last Iranian official to visit the Capitoline Museum was the former minister of foreign affairs, who in 1999 was being given a tour of the Greek collection when he found himself face-to-face with the bronze penis of a Hercules statue. Assuming that it was the nozzle for a drinking fountain, the chief Iranian diplomat opened his mouth and attempted to release water by turning the appendage. The ensuing mockery in the Italian press led to years of frostiness between the two nations.