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Tourist damages 200-year-old Italian sculpture while posing for a photo

Tourist damages sculpture during photo op
Tourist damages sculpture during photo op 00:43

A historic sculpture in Italy is now missing some of its toes, thanks to an overeager tourist. The man damaged the 200-year-old sculpture last week while posing for a photo, the museum said.

The tourist, who is from Austria, broke several toes off of the original plaster of, "Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venus Victrix," at the Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno on Friday. The museum said the visitor was leaning on the sculpture, trying to mimic its pose for a photo op.

Footage obtained by Reuters confirms that the man was sitting directly on the sculpture as another person appears to take a photo. The man stands up, turns around to view the apparent damage, before quickly walking away.

The visitor left the museum without notifying anyone of the damage, the museum said in a Facebook post on Saturday. A museum official noticed the damage a few minutes after the incident occurred and declared an emergency situation.

Tourist posing for photograph damages plaster cast model of an Antonio Canova sculpture
CCTV footage released by Italian Carabinieri military police shows a tourist posing for a photograph while leaning on a 19th-century plaster model of "Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venus Victrix" by sculptor Antonio Canova, before damaging the toes of the sculpture, at the Gypsotheca Antonio Canova Museum in Possagno, Italy, on July 31, 2020. CARABINIERI TREVISO / Reuters

The sculpture was commissioned in 1804 by Prince Camillo Borghese and cast by Antonio Canova, one of Italy's most prominent neoclassical sculptors. The one displayed in Northern Italy is the original plaster cast for the iconic marble version, which is in Rome's Galleria Borghese.

The artwork is part of the museum's "gypsoteca" — a collection of plasters used to cast bronze, marble and terracotta statues — which, by definition, are extremely fragile. The museum was able to recover the missing fragments and said there will be discussions in the next few weeks about restoring the work.

The museum emphasized that its "heritage must be protected." It encouraged visitors to behave responsibly and respect the artwork so that it can be "handed down with pride to future generations."

In a Facebook post following the incident, President of the Canova Foundation Vittorio Sgarbi called on police to take the tourist into custody and not allow him to return home. "The scar in Canova is unacceptable," he said.

Tourist posing for photograph damages plaster cast model of an Antonio Canova sculpture
A photo released by Italian Carabinieri military police shows damage to a 19th-century plaster model of "Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venus Victrix" by sculptor Antonio Canova, after a tourist leaned on it while posing for a photograph and subsequently broke off three of the toes of the sculpture, at the Gypsotheca Antonio Canova Museum in Possagno, Italy, on July 31, 2020. CARABINIERI TREVISO / Reuters

According to Artnet News, new legislation in Italy could increase the maximum sentence for art vandalization to eight years in prison and a $117,000 fine.

The museum said that it has identified the tourist responsible for the damage based on surveillance footage and a new log of visitors required since the country reopened from its coronavirus lockdowns. It also wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that he has since "turned himself in" and written a letter to Sgarbi after reading about the incident in Austrian newspapers.

The tourist, who remains anonymous but hails from Aistersheim, said his behavior was "irresponsible" and he was not aware of the "consequences." He also apologized "in every way" and asked if he could help rectify the situation. Sgarbi said he appreciates the apology.

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