Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Destroying something beautiful

Art vandals act out of insanity, boredom or drunkenness but rarely face severe sanctions


The vandalized Neptune statue.


She whole operation took 54 seconds.

The famous Neptune fountain in Florence, which took baroque architect Bartolomeo Ammanati 12 painstaking years from 1563 to 1575 to create, had a hand of the sea god broken off.

The vandal, a 28-year-old cook from Tuscany, was identified from surveillance camera images. The man told his lawyers he was "in a state of euphoria" when he climbed the statue on Aug. 3 to take a photo with his mobile phone.

Year after year, when temperatures in the Italian capital soar, art vandals, acting either out of boredom or drunkenness, take aim at historical monuments.

The most dramatic incident dates back to 1972 when a 33-year-old Hungarian rushed into St Peter's Basilica and exclaimed, "I am Jesus Christ!" before destroying Michelangelo's Pieta with a hammer.

The face of Christ's mother was badly damaged and one of her arms was severed. An Italian court later pronounced the perpetrator, Laszlo Toth, insane. Toth later emigrated to Australia.

Ever since experts have been asking what motivates people to inflict damage on treasured works of art.

"Was Toth so traumatized by the beauty of the statue that he acted out of despair?" wondered one art historian in an essay years later.

The answer is probably much more mundane, if the example of the three middle-aged men who, in 1997, used Bernini's Four Rivers fountain in Rome as a diving board is anything to go by.

In trying to impress onlooking tourists in Rome's Piazzo Navona, the men climbed up the marble structure, breaking the tail of an ornamental sea creature into little pieces, "as it were made of plaster," a journalist with La Repubblica daily recalled.

"I don't know what all the fuss is about. We only wanted to have a bit of fun" the men told police afterwards. The ringleader was later sentenced to three months in prison, which he appealed on the grounds that the fountain was in a state of disrepair.

In 1991, it was Michelangelo's most famous sculpture that took a beating: A serial offender took a hammer to David, which is on display in Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia, knocking off its toes. Eight years later the same man scribbled on a painting by American abstract artist Jackson Pollock in Rome.

And the list of art-related vandalism attacks continues, from Bernini's Bee fountain on Rome's Via Veneto to the entrance door of Milan Cathedral, to the works by French painter Henri Matisse which a schoolgoer perforated with a pen at an exhibition in Rome in 1998.

The consequence of these acts is that more and more Italian works of art are disappearing behind protective panes of glass, including the restored Pieta in St Peter's Basilica. Neptune's return to Florence's Piazza della Signoria is slated for early 2006.

"We must reconsider our laws (on this type of crime), because we heading towards complete anarchy," said Florence-based art expert Antonio Paolucci. "The sanctions are currently so weak you'd think we were talking about defacing a street sign."

This story has been viewed 6045 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top