Italian PM 'enhances' ancient Roman statues

A Roman statue of Venus and Mars is displayed at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office The Italian prime minister personally authorised the restoration

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Italy's prime minister is under attack for authorising what amounts to plastic surgery on two Roman marble statues.

The statues, which depict the naked gods Venus and Mars, are on show in Silvio Berlusconi's Rome residence.

Mr Berlusconi ordered a replacement for the missing penis on the statue of the ancient god of war, and a missing hand for Venus.

Art experts say it is tasteless and aesthetically wrong to replace the missing body parts.

The additions to the two ancient statues, dug up near Rome nearly 100 years ago and now adorning the courtyard of the prime minister's official residence, were ordered personally by Mr Berlusconi.

The statues were formerly kept in a Rome museum.

What has angered art lovers is that this type of cosmetic restoration - which cost more than 73,000 euros ($100,000) - carried out on many damaged ancient Roman and Greek statues from the 17th Century onwards, has now gone out of fashion.

Mr Berlusconi has failed to respect the rules of art restoration as practised by Italian restorers - that you do not try to restore perfection to ancient works of art.

Mr Berlusconi has ordered massive cuts of more than 40% to Italy's fine arts budget next year as part of an austerity programme.

Although the new body parts are described as being "removable", one art critic pointed out that Italian art restorers who are being paid by the government to restore ancient works of art in China teach the Chinese not to disguise the difference between what is old and what is new.

But Mr Berlusconi's tastes for the perfect nude triumphed over the opinion of art experts employed by his own culture ministry.

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