ROME The government cover-up that Italians are whispering about these days has nothing to do with politics. Instead, it's about a missing nipple.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's staff have altered a reproduction of a famous 18th-century painting by Giambattista Tiepolo to cover an exposed breast on full display in the press room in the Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister's palace.
Nude artwork rarely offends in Italy, home to innumerable classical nudes in painting and sculpture. But this particular bare breast, in Tiepolo's "Time Uncovering Truth", was the backdrop for press conferences and often caught on camera.
Aides decided to repaint the woman's gown to cover the offending nipple.
"It was an initiative by those on the presidential staff who look after Berlusconi's image," his spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti, was quoted telling the daily Corriere della Sera.
"That breast, that nipple ... it ends up exactly inside the frame captured by TV news stations at press conferences."
Vittorio Sgarbi, an art critic and once a culture undersecretary in a previous Berlusconi government, called the move "crazy".
"What should be done with all the statues of women at dozens of Italian museums, where breasts can be admired that would even leave Pamela Anderson breathless?" Sgarbi told Corriere.
(Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Kevin Liffey)