Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

Damage done: selfie-taker snaps toes off 19th-century sculpture in Italy

An Austrian tourist attempted to sit on the sculpture's lap and snapped off its toes in the process

The original marble version of the Antonio Canova sculpture at the Galleria Borghese. Getty
The original marble version of the Antonio Canova sculpture at the Galleria Borghese. Getty

The art museum selfie strikes again.

In Italy, an Austrian tourist has damaged a Neoclassical sculpture while trying to capture a photo.

Created by Italian artist Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the sculpture is a plaster model of a reclining female figure. The tourist, whose name has not been made public, snapped two toes off the sculpture while trying to sit on the figure’s lap for a picture.

The incident took place on July 31, at the Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno, north-east Italy. On its Facebook page, the museum said that room guards noticed the damage minutes after the tourist “hurriedly left without reporting the incident”.

The sculpture, titled Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, is an original plaster model of Canova’s marble work of the same name. It depicts Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Pauline, as Venus. The marble version, commissioned by her husband, Camillo Borghese, in the early 1800s, is in the collection of Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Using security footage, staff were able to uncover what took place, and saw the damage was all for a selfie.

The sculpture's toes snapped off after a tourist tried to sit on the figure's lap. Via Museum Antonio Canova / Facebook
This is the plaster version, the toes of which were snapped off after a tourist tried to sit on the figure's lap. Museum Antonio Canova / Facebook

Because of Covid-19 guidelines, museums in Italy require foreign visitors to register their names upon entry. This allowed Museo Antonio Canova to quickly identify the person responsible, though he or she is yet to be tracked down.

Speaking to Austrian press, the museum’s director Moira Mascotto stated that staff were able to find broken parts of the gypsum, which will help with the restoration of the piece.

When announcing the damage, the museum implored visitors to be more careful. "Our heritage must be protected: adopting responsible behaviour within the museum and respecting the works and goods preserved in it is not only a civic duty, but a sign of respect for what ... must be handed down with pride to future generations."

It’s not the first time overly eager picture-takers have caused damage in art museums.

In February 2017, a visitor lost his footing and smashed a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin in her Infinity Mirror Room installation at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington. The room had to be closed temporarily, though the damage was minimal.

In another incident that same year, a visitor at 14th Factory, a pop-up gallery in Los Angeles, knocked down nearly an entire installation while posing for a photo.

The work was comprised of a series of plinths with sculptures on top that toppled over as the individual backed up against one plinth.

The disastrous domino effect was captured on camera and shared on YouTube, where it garnered millions of views, with some pointing out that the viral moment may have only helped to increase the art's value.

Updated: August 4, 2020 02:35 PM

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