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Italian Museum Covers Roman Nude Statues During Iran President's Visit

Call it a cover-up: Nude statues were hidden in Rome in an apparent attempt not to offend the visiting president of socially conservative Iran.

President Hassan Rouhani was in Italy on Tuesday as part of a European tour aimed at drumming up investment in Iran following years of international sanctions.

He met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome's Capitoline Museums on Monday evening — where large white boxes covered up exhibits of nude statues from ancient Rome.

Image: Nude sculptures covered ahead of Iranian President visit
One of the covered-up nude statues at the Capitoline Museums in Rome. Giuseppe Lami / EPA

Italy's ANSA news agency said that the move to limit Rouhani's exposure was made out of respect for Iranian culture — and that officials opted not to serve alcohol at events with the president for the same reason.

Although it wasn't immediately clear whether Renzi's office or the museum had made the call to cover the statues up, but if nothing else, the move united both wings of Italy's notoriously fractious political spectrum.

Giorgia Meloni, a former minister in the government of ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and president of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, said the move "exceeded all limits of decency" and posted on Facebook that "the only thing to cover is the face of Renzi, not our classic statues."

Meanwhile, Gianluca Peciola, a prominent leftist activist, started a Change.org petition demanding that Renzi explain the "disgrace and humiliation" of Italy's "violation of the principles of the secular state and national sovereignty." The petition had 904 signatures by late Tuesday.

The museum and the mayor's office told NBC News to contact the prime minister's office. The prime minister's spokesman did not return several calls and an email from NBC News.

Iranian President Rouhani Meets Pope Francis in First Visit to Europe 0:32

Rouhani later met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, where the two discussed "suitable political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East, to counter the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking," the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported.