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.

Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State

There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.


The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."


The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.


The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.


The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.


The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.


For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.


Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.


You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.


In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.


When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.


On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."


More from mental floss studios