- Associated Press - Friday, November 19, 2010

ROME (AP) - Italy’s culture ministry on Friday defended Premier Silvio Berlusconi for giving ancient marble statues in his office replacement body parts, to the horror of art restorers.

The ministry, which is led by a close ally of the premier, said in a statement there’s no cause for alarm: The hand added to Venus and the penis added to Mars are attached by magnets and can be removed without damage.

For decades, restorers have widely agreed that missing parts of ancient statues should not be recreated.

Rome daily La Repubblica quoted Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci, one of Italy’s top restoration experts, as saying “it’s a pity” restorers didn’t say no to Berlusconi’s request to add parts to the 2nd century statues in Chigi Palace, the premier’s office.

But Berlusconi’s personal architect insisted in an interview with Associated Press Television News that the restoration was justified.

Mario Catalano said the restoration of the missing parts was based of scans of “other works with similar poses and with the agreement of the ministry’s restorers.”

He said the statues were among many ancient treasures relegated to the storerooms of Rome’s museums because there just isn’t enough space to display everything.

The sculptured pair “would have never seen the light of day” had Berlusconi not decided to have them taken from the storerooms and put in the palace courtyard, Catalano said.

Chigi Palace is also the official residence of Italian premiers, although most of them, including Berlusconi, decide to live elsewhere in the capital while in power. The building, begun in the 1500s and named after Pope Alexander VII of the Chigi family, is used for the premier’s official business.