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7 Works of Art That Are Taking a Beating

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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.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.


Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.


Raw dough.

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.


Kids trick-or-treating.

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.


The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.


Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.


Kids knocking on a door in costume.

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.


Sugar skulls with decoration.

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.


Little girl trick-or-treating.

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Mill Creek Entertainment
Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''


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