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.
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.
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.
Our own AndrÃ©a 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 VelÃ¡zquez 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
Although 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.
The 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.
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.