On Wednesday, Oct. 5, a man believed to be in an agitated state threw two 2,000-year-old Roman busts into the Chiaramonti Gallery of the Vatican Museums. This gallery is a long corridor lined with statues and busts.
The man was an Egyptian-American tourist, about 60 years old, who had been in Rome for three days. Before the Vatican Gendarmerie handed him over to Italian police for questioning, he said he wanted to see the pope. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Damage to busts can be repaired
Reports indicate that the marble base of one bust was broken and both sides were slightly damaged. The sculptures were immediately transferred to the Stone Materials Restoration Laboratory of the Vatican Museums.
Museum officials have confirmed that the busts are “minor works”. The cost to repair the busts is estimated at $16,500 and it will take between 300 and 350 man hours to fix them. They are unlikely to return to the state they were in before the incident.
Vatican City and the Vatican Museums are their own city-state
Vatican City contains religious sites, like St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as the Vatican Museums, all of which tourists can visit. It is a city-state with its own police force, called the Vatican Gendarmerie.
Six million tourists visited the Vatican Museums each year before the pandemic. The museums were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic but reopened to visitors after the pandemic improved. Concerns have been raised about the security of the institution as visitor numbers begin to return to pre-pandemic levels.
The Vatican has already been vandalized
The most famous attack on Vatican artwork took place in 1972 when a Hungarian man jumped over the side altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and started punching Michael’s Pietà statue. -Angel with a heavy hammer. He knocked off the left hand of the Virgin Mary, part of the nose and the veil. The statue was then placed behind safety glass.
In 2010, the Holy Staircase, Scala Santa, was tagged by antipope vandals. The stairs are one of the most important places of pilgrimage in the world.
Art vandalism in Rome is not new
Interestingly, the word “Vandal” has its roots in the sacking of ancient Rome in 455. It was then that the Vandal Kingdom descended on Rome, ransacking the city and damaging the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus by removing the tiles in bronze of the roof. Ancient monuments, monuments and art around the city are continually attacked by vandals.
Vandalism is so common throughout the city that the Italian Carabinieri, or police, have a targeted vandalism patrol to try to control the problem. Pincio Hill, the vantage point from Villa Borghese overlooking Piazza del Popolo, is one of the city’s art crime hotspots, where marble statues of famous Italians are defaced with graffiti and attacked with hammer blows.
The Trevi Fountain has been damaged by red dye thrown into its waters. Another violent act of vandalism occurred in 2011 when a man attacked one of the 19th-century Moorish statues in Piazza Navona with a rock, causing massive damage.
Of course, there are still plenty of beautiful, untouched works of art and other attractions to see in Rome.
For more information on traveling to Rome, see one of these articles: