Tourist Damages A Valuable Italian Sculpture And Just Walks Away

CCTV in an Italian museum has captured the moment a tourist snapped two toes off a 200-year-old sculpture’s model.

This horrendous act of vandalism followed by sheer negligence of all adult responsibilities occurred at the Gypsotheca Antonio Canova Museum in Possagno, Italy, and security camera footage shows the 50-year-old Austrian man lying alongside the plaster model by sculptor Antonio Canova before he snaps off two toes and wanders off in a sly “nothing to see over here” style.

Image of the damaged Italian sculpture model from the Carabinieri police. (Carabinieri Treviso)

Image of the damaged Italian sculpture model from the Carabinieri police. (Carabinieri Treviso)

It Wasn’t My Fault Sir, It Just Broke

Staff at the Italian museum were utterly enraged at the man’s sheer ignorance and wrote in a tweet:

“An Austrian tourist sat on the sculpture of Paolina Bonaparte causing two toes to break, then quickly moving away from the museum, without denouncing the fact.”

As soon as the incident occurred the museum room security guard detected the damage and sounded the alarm declaring an “emergency situation” and Lad Bible reports that all of the information pertaining to the damaged “Carabinieri of the Pieve del Grappa Station”, along with the incriminating footage of the vandal was given to the police.

In an unexpected twist the tourist, said to live in Aistersheim, Grieskirchen, Austria, “turned himself in” and has at least had the decency to write a personal letter to the President of the Canova Foundation, Vittorio Sgarbi, which said,  “I would like to self-sue myself, after today I read about the incident in the Austrian newspapers and it was immediately clear to me that I had to get in touch.”

And knowing that eye-in-sky security technology had probably caught his every move the man admitted that sitting on the artifact was “irresponsible behavior”.

What Exactly Has Been Damaged In Italy?

Antonio Canova (1757-1822 AD) was an Italian Neoclassical marble sculptor who is often referred to as one the greatest of the Neoclassical artists to have ever lived. Canova was born in 1757 AD in the Venetian Republic city of  Possagno, but he lived in Rome, Venice, France and England and he is perhaps most famous for having been so deeply inspired by the  Baroque and the classical revival. And according to Britannica it was here in Possagno that Antonio’s paternal grandfather, Pasino Canova, taught him in the art of sculpting.

Antonio Canova self portrait, 1790. (Public Domain)

Antonio Canova self portrait, 1790. ( Public Domain )

The Austrian man broke two toes off a clay model which sculptors create in advance of their metal working, and the art of making models had been mastered by Canova before he was ten years old, who according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, was carving forms in marble before turning 11-years-old.

According to Oskar Batschmann’s 1997 book, The Artist in the Modern World: A Conflict Between Market and Self-Expression, Canova was at heart a historian and he famously refused to take on any students, however, during the last quarter of the eighteenth century “it became fashionable to view art galleries at night by torchlight” and Canova displayed his works of art in his studio by candlelight to soften the transitions between the various parts of the nude sculptures. His final masterpieces were polished with pumice stones over periods of several months and it is known he applied a chemical composition of patina onto the fleshy parts of his figure to lighten the skin tones.

The thankfully intact marble sculpture of Paolina Bonaparte Borghese as ‘Venus Victrix’ by Antonio Canova, in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The thankfully intact marble sculpture of Paolina Bonaparte Borghese as ‘Venus Victrix’ by Antonio Canova, in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.  ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Now, knowing all this, let’s return to the Austrian man who broke the toes of one of Canova’s clay models and place his act in proper context. What he has actually done is to damage, forever, the relative perfection of a very important historical artist’s model that had otherwise gone untouched for over 200 years, and his sole inspiration was probably no more than to get a picture worthy of a handfuls of likes on his social media platforms, for being… “oh so cool.”

Top image: Damaged 19 th century sculpture of Paolina Bonaparte by Antonio Canova       Source: Gypsotheca Antonio Canova Museum (Inset, Carabinieri Treviso)

By Ashley Cowie


Handley, Marie Louise Adelaide (1908),  Antonio Canova , in Herbermann, Charles (ed.),  Catholic Encyclopedia 3, New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Oskar Batschmann. (1997). The Artist in the Modern World: A Conflict Between Market and Self-Expression . DuMont Bunchverlag.

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