Italy and Iran will sign up to $18.4 billion of business deals during the two-day visit of the Iranian delegation which began on Monday
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi came under fire on Tuesday after ancient nude statues in Rome's Capitoline museum were covered up to avoid any possible offence to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who is visiting the country.
Italy and Iran will sign up to 17 billion euros ($18.4 billion) of business deals during the two-day visit of the Iranian delegation which began on Monday, but Italian opposition leaders and commentators said Renzi had gone too far to please his guest.
Politicians on the left and right said not only had Renzi made almost no reference to Iran's human rights record during a joint news conference, but had also "surrendered" Italy's cultural identity by hiding the nude statues of women.
"Respect for other cultures cannot and must not mean negating our own," said Luca Squeri, a lawmaker in former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party. "This isn't respect, it's cancelling out differences and it's a kind of surrender."
At Iran's request Italy also kept wine off the menu at a ceremonial dinner on Monday evening.
Northern League deputy Barbara Saltamartini said covering the statues with white panels was an "act of submission," while the party's leader Matteo Salvini wrote on his Facebook page that it was "crazy".
Gianluca Peciola, of the Left, Ecology and Freedom party, called on Renzi to explain "a disgraceful decision which is a mortification of art and culture as universal values".
The 41-year-old Renzi met with similar criticism last year when he covered up nude pictures in the renaissance town hall of Florence, the city where he used to be mayor, on the occasion of a visit by the crown prince of the UAE.
I doubt if Dr. Rouhani, a graduate of Caledonian University in Scotland, has any difficulties with public art from the classical school. The problem lies with the unelected shadow government back in Iran which is under the control of the spiritual leader and his cohorts. They take great delight in diminishing western emblems and values - witness recently the humiliation of American naval personnel squatting under the supervision of armed revolutionary guards - while broadcasting their 'triumphs' over a compliant Farsi language media.
While I am sure the Italian government is anxious to develop a good trading rapport with the Islamic Republic, it should not be achieved by diminishing an amazing cultural heritage by temporarily compromising its unique position as the home of that magnificent period in world history, the Renaissance.