Rouhani naked statues Rome
A visitor pictures the Capitoline Venus at Rome's Capitoline Museum, where classical nude sculptures were covered up FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has praised Italy as a "very hospitable" country after a controversy over the prudish cover up of naked statues at a Rome museum ahead of his official visit. Rouhani maintained he didn't ask for revealing sculptures at the Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums) to be concealed, saying there had been "no contacts" on the issue between his delegation and the Italian government.

He nevertheless implied the gesture was appreciated. "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 a press conference in the Italian capital.

The toured the Capitoline Museums – which hosts a huge collection of artefacts from the ancient, medieval and renaissance periods – accompanied by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on 25 January. However he could not admire some of the museum's masterpieces, as all marbles depicting naked scenes had been carefully hid behind large white panels.

The vast censorship effort was implemented as a show of respect to the Islamic Republic's leader, out of fears that the exposed private parts of ancient Roman gods could offend Iranian sensitivity. The move, which museum officials said was decided by the government, made headlines all around the world and angered many Italians that accused authorities of betraying the country's cultural heritage in the name of political correctness and business interests.

It was not the first time Italy had covered some of its world-famous heritage jewels to please a foreign dignitary. In October 2015 a separating barrier was set up to shield the a statue of a naked man by US artist Jeff Koons from the sight of Abu Dhabi's crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during a visit to Florence.

Matteo Renzi Rouhani Iran statues
Iran President Hassan Rouhani talks with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the Campidoglio palace in Rome Reuters