Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's visit to Rome began with a visit to the Capitoline Museum, but Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was careful not to offend Rouhani -- officials are reported to have covered up statues depicting nude figures as a sign of respect for the country's Muslim traditions.
The visit, which began on Jan. 25, comes after years of economic sanctions have been lifted and has the aim of rebuilding Iran's relationship with western countries. A source in Italy told Reuters that Iranians were set to sign deals worth up to $18.4 billion in areas like energy and shipbuilding.
The statues have been depicted in photos as being completely covered in white panels. A spokesman for the city of Rome, which manages the Capitoline Museum, stated that all decisions regarding the visit from Rouhani and the artwork that was displayed were made by the prime minister's office, The Guardian reports.
A dinner held for Rouhani also did not include alcohol, as has been standard practice for visits from Muslim officials.
Rouhani was originally scheduled to visit Europe in November, but the trip was canceled after the terrorist attacks on Paris on Nov. 13. In a statement during Rouhani's visit, Renzi sounded hopeful that improved relations between Iran and the west could help to counteract terrorism.
"I am sure this visit will be a fundamental part of our ability to overcome together the challenge of fighting terrorism, atrocity and evil that we all have to confront together," Renzi said, standing with Rouhani.
Not everyone was happy with the Italian prime minister's decision to cover the museum's artwork. Luca Squeri, a lawmaker in Italy's center-right Forza Italia party, voiced his opposition to Renzi's office's actions.
“Respect for other cultures cannot and must not mean negating our own,” Squeri said. “This isn’t respect, it’s canceling out differences and it’s a kind of surrender.”
In October, Renzi's office placed a cordon around a nude statue by American artist Jeff Koons during a visit to Florence by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. During that meeting, it was noted that another sculpture, Michelangelo's "David," was not covered.
Rouhani will continue his visit with a trip to Rome's famous Coliseum on Jan. 27 with Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.