An American tourist has caused outrage in the Vatican after smashing two ancient Roman statues while visiting the Museo Chiaramonti, part of the Vatican Museums and home to one of the most important collections of Roman busts.
Italian media reported that the man became aggravated after demanding to see the Pope. When his request was denied, he allegedly grabbed a Roman bust and hurled it to the floor.
As he ran away from the scene, with museum staff in pursuit, he allegedly knocked another bust to the ground.
Vatican museums spokesperson Matteo Alessandrini told The Washington Post that the busts were damaged but they are fixable, and restoration work is already underway. One of the busts depicts an elderly man, and the other, a young man.
When the first bust hit the ground, a “loud bang echoed through the long gallery,” Alessandrini said. Two Vatican police officers who were stationed nearby arrived at the scene within minutes and took the man into custody.
Vatican police questioned the suspect and then handed him over to Italian authorities around 5:30, CNN reported.
An Italian police spokesperson told The Post that the 65-year-old American man appeared to be “psychologically distressed.” He was charged with aggravated property damage and released.
According to Allessandrini, the “scare” of the incident was “bigger than the actual damage” to the busts, and he estimates that the pieces will require around 300 hours of restoration work to fix them.
“The two busts have been damaged but not particularly badly. One lost part of a nose and an ear, the head of the other came off the pedestal,” Allessandrini told CNN.
A source told Italian media that the two pieces are not considered important pieces of art — though they are around 2,000 years old.
The incident occurred in the “Galleria Chiaramonte” corridor of the museum, which is home to around 100 busts and statues.
A Vatican tour guide told CNN that he fears that this event will affect museum restrictions moving forward.
“One of the beautiful things is that (the museum) allows the visitors to get literally face to face with these ancient sculptures. My fear is that with behaviour like this, barriers could be put in place.”
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