Undoing Berlusconi’s Damage

Back in 2009, there was a bit of an uproar because Silvio Belusconi took it upon himself to get some statues of Mars and Venus ‘restored’ … I could have sworn I blogged it, but it seems to have been missed. Anyhoo, the BBC coverage from the time is still available if you want to see how it was covered back then: Italian PM ‘enhances’ ancient Roman statues … today, however, we read that his restorations have been undone … Here’s France24’s version:

Two marble statues adorning the official prime minister’s residence have lost extra appendages added by former PM Silvio Berlusconi in a 2010 attempt to restore portions that had been lost over time.

An ancient statue of Mars was given a new penis, shield, hand and a new tip for his sword, while the Venus statue was given hands in a move that left the art world aghast, the Italian daily Il Messaggero reported.

The €70,000 ($90,000) cost of the enhancements also sparked anger at the time among Italy’s opposition.

Berlusconi’s ‘whim’

“This is an aesthetic surgery carried out on the personal whim of the prime minister,” said Manuela Ghizzoni of the then-opposition Democratic Party.

The 6-foot-high statues, representing Emperor Marcus Aurelius as the war god and his wife Faustine as the goddess of love, date back to 175 A.D. and were discovered in 1918 in Ostia near Rome.

The pair had been lent to the premier’s Palazzo Chigi, the seat of the Italian government, but upon Berlusconi’s departure in May 2012 they returned to the National Roman Museum.

Historian Giovanna Bandini oversaw the removal of the enhancements, which had been attached by a magnetic system, and said the statues had not been damaged in the process.

“These reconstructions do not comply with our principles of restoration, based on the appearance that history left us,” Bandini told Il Messaggero. But he added that while restoring the statues to their previous form was “an experiment”, it was also “a complete success”.

Veiling the ‘Unveiled’

It was not the first time Berlusconi had tampered with works of art that offended his sensibilities.

In August 2008 he asked that a painting that was visible behind him during press conferences be retouched so that a bare breast would not be visible in photographs or TV footage.

“That breast, that nipple … ends up right inside the frame captured by TV news,” Berlusconi’s spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, said at the time.

The painting, a copy of “La Verita Svelata dal Tempo” (The Truth Unveiled by Time) by 18th-century Venetian master Giambattista Tiepolo, was subsequently altered to include a draped cloth that hides the offending breast.

“It was an initiative by those on the presidential staff who look after Berlusconi’s image,” Bonaiuti said.

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