A 200-year-old sculpture by Antonio Canova was damaged after an Austrian tourist laying down on it to pose for a photo caused the statue’s toes to snap off.
The damaged artwork is the plaster cast model of the famous Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Vitrix, and is housed inside the Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno near Treviso in north-eastern Italy, a museum that contains plaster casts and scale models of Canova’s sculptures.
The incident happened over the first weekend of August.
Surveillance camera shows the man reclining on the statue as a woman (later identified as his wife) takes a photo. Getting up, the man appears to notice the damage caused, but walks off without saying anything. In the footage, he’s seen looking back at the statue as he stands up and touching the area around the feet and lingering around the statue for a bit longer as if to block off the view of the damage to other visitors.
The tourist was identified through the online reservation his wife had made for a group they were part of. Reservations are currently mandatory due to coronavirus precautionary measures and require to leave personal details. When the Carabinieri, one of Italy's main law enforcement agencies, contacted the woman after studying the surveillance video, she reportedly broke into tears and admitted to what had happened.
The 50-year-old man issued an apology, parts of which were published on the museum’s Facebook page.
“I’d like to report myself after reading about the accident in the Austrian media today; it was immediately clear to me that I had to get in touch,” he wrote in a letter addressed to art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, the president of the Antonio Canova Foundation. “It was irresponsible behavior on my part; the consequences were not known to me, so I regularly continued my visit to the museum and my trip in Italy (I didn’t flee).”
“During the visit I sat on the statue, without however realizing the damage that I obviously caused,” the man also wrote. “I apologize in every way possible.”
The man has said he is willing to pay damages.
A court in Treviso will decide whether to press charges.
The marble version of the statue is kept in Rome’s Galleria Borghese, where it’s a highlight of the visit. It is a semi-nude life-size reclining neo-Classical portrait of Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister.
Neoclassical artist Antonio Canova is considered one of the most talented Italian sculptors of all time, famous especially for his marble statues.