7 Works of Art That Are Taking a Beating

by Stacy Conradt, Iowa State University

You guys might have read recently that Stonehenge was vandalized (followed a few days later by Carhenge!). When I read the headline, I immediately thought someone had toppled over the stones domino-style, or perhaps drawn graffiti on it (Kilroy was here?). What actually happened is that a couple of people attacked the central stone with a hammer and chipped off a piece the size of a large coin. That may not sound like such a big deal, but when you consider how ancient the mysterious structure is (it's been around since at least 2200 B.C.), it's pretty upsetting that anyone would try to alter or damage it. But that kind of thing happens more than you might think. Here are a few more antiquities or priceless artifacts that have been vandalized and/or stolen.

Michaelangelo's Pieta


Anyone who took an art history class is familiar with Michaelangelo's Pieta, housed in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The marble sculpture was created in the late 1400s for the French cardinal Jean de Billheres but was moved to St. Peter's in the 18th century. As you can see, the sculpture is of Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion. Poor Mary has suffered quite a bit "“ first, four of her fingers were broken off in a move. They were restored in 1736, but this was only the beginning of Mary's troubles. In 1972, Laszlo Toth, a geologist, walked in and attacked the unprotected statue with a hammer while screaming, "I am Jesus Christ "“ risen from the dead!" He managed to take off Mary's arm at the elbow, chipped one of her eyelids and broke a piece off of her nose. He was never charged with vandalization because he was believed to be insane. After it was restored, however, Michaelangelo's Pieta has been encased in bullet-proof acrylic glass.

The Parthenon

Vandals don't always necessarily mean to harm these great works "“ sometimes they are souvenir collectors. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, is best known for his collection of the Elgin Marbles. This is disputed, but one side of the story says that Elgin has permission to go into the Acropolis and make sketches, take casts and carry out digs, but he did not have permission to do so at the Parthenon itself. Although he intended to preserve the antiquities, Elgin discovered that he was unable to get many of the works out of the Parthenon without cutting them up into smaller chunks. In doing so, he caused quite a bit of damage to the pieces. The other side of the story, of course, says that Elgin had full permission to do everything. Unfortunately, the original copy of the document that outlined where Elgin could dig is no longer in existence "“ although an Italian translation of the document is. The validity of the translation is questioned for several reasons, though, so for now the mystery of whether Elgin was in the right or not remains just that.

Rokeby Venus

rokebyOur own Andréa could tell you more about this work than me, but here are the basics: The Rokeby Venus (AKA The Toilet of Venus, Venus at her Mirror, Venus and Cupid, or La Venus del espejo) is a painting done by Diego Velázquez and shows Venus posed on a bed, looking in to a mirror held by her son, Cupid.

In 1914, after suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested, fellow suffragette Mary Richardson attacked the painting, which was hanging in London's National Gallery, with a meat cleaver. She left seven large slashes on the painting, all of which were repaired by the National Gallery's restorer. Richardson received six months in jail as punishment and later said that she tried to "destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history." Also, she "didn't like the way men visitors gaped at it all day long".

The Mona Lisa

mona lisaAlthough the Mona Lisa is quite secure now, in 1911, a painter walked into the Louvre to check out the famous painting and discovered an empty space on the wall where it should have been. Security wasn't alarmed because they thought that the painting was somewhere being photographed for museum marketing. It wasn't. The museum was closed for a week while the theft was investigated. Two years later, it was discovered that a Louvre employee had hidden in a broom closet until the museum closed, then walked out with it hidden under his coat (if you've never seen it, the Mona Lisa is a lot smaller than you think it's going to be). The employee believed that the painting should be in an Italian museum, not a French museum. The Mona Lisa returned to her home at the Louvre in 1913.

1956 was particularly hard on Mona "“ first, a vandal doused the lower half of the painting with acid. A few months later a man threw a rock at her, which took off some of the paint near the left elbow. The Mona Lisa is now covered with bulletproof glass.

Michaelangelo's David

davidThe David was sculpted by Michaelangelo from 1501-1504, so honestly, I think it's surprising that it hasn't suffered more vandalism. In 1991, though, David almost lost his toes when a vandal attacked him with a hammer. However, there is a silver lining "“ scientists were able to do tests on some of the chipped-off pieces and determined where the marble originally came from, which gives restorers a better idea of how to clean and care for the marble.

The Scream

There's something about Edvard Munch's The Scream "“ it keeps getting stolen. Well, versions of it keep getting stolen "“ Munch created several different versions using different media. On the opening day of the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994, four men broken into London's National Gallery and took off with the version on display there, leaving a note that said "Thanks for the poor security." The undamaged painting was recovered a few months later.

In 2004, gunmen stole another version of The Scream, and another work of Munch's entitled Madonna. The paintings weren't recovered until 2006, and although they were damaged, they were in better condition than the museum had expected them to be in. The Scream had some moisture damage and Madonna had some tears and a couple of holes. The Munch Museum released a statement saying that although some of the damage may be impossible to repair, the overall integrity of the work has not been compromised.

The Little Mermaid

You might argue that by putting a sculpture in an extremely public place, you're almost asking for vandalism. Such is the case of The Little Mermaid, a statue that sits on a rock in the Copenhagen harbour. It was unveiled in 1913 and has been the victim of vandals since the 1950s. She has lost her head at least twice and her right arm once, she was blasted entirely off of her rock in 2003, she's been painted on several times, and she has had several "additions" over the years, including a burka, a dildo, a bra and a head scarf.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.


The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.


Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.


Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.


A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”


Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.


Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.


Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”


New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.


During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.


Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.


Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.


Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.


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