Austrian Tourist Breaks Toes Off Sculpture In Italy While Taking Memorable Picture

Pauline_Bonaparte_LefevreWe have previously discussed the destructive narcissism of tourists who write their names on historic locations or art. This includes the Chinese tourist who wrote on an ancient Egyptian temple and the Russian who carved his name into the Colosseum. An unidentified 55-year-old man from Missouri snapped the finger off a 14th or 15th century marble masterpiece when he decided to measure it by grabbing the hand. Then there was the destruction of an ornate historic arch for selfie in Portugal. The latest victim is a 200-year-old sculpture in Italy after an Austrian tourist decided to sit on the artwork for a better picture and broke off two of its toes. Paolina (left) might not object to the intrusion. She was heavily criticized for her attraction to (and of) men, a tendency that led to a reputation for “Bacchanalian promiscuity.”  It appears her irresistible attraction continues, even to the ruin of Austrian men hundreds of years later.

Created in the early 1800s, it depicts Paolina Bonaparte, the sister of Napoleon, as the

We have previously discussed what the proper punishment should be for such acts. In this case, I was particularly struck by the fact that the plaster version of Antonio Canova’s statue of Paolina Bonaparte was inside the Museum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in Possagno, Italy.  Some people might think that an outdoor statue is sturdier or expected to have such contact. This was inside a museum.


The authorities say that the surveillance tape showed the the the tourist quickly moved away from the damaged work and failed to alert staff during the July 31 incident.  The man later said that he read about the damage after returning home and turned himself in:  “During the visit, I sat on the statue, without realizing the damage I evidently caused. I ask you for information on the steps that are necessary on my part in this very unpleasant situation for me and for which, firstly, I apologize in every way.”

Admitting guilt is certainly commendable but it leaves us again with the question of the appropriate penalty. Such this be a criminal violation? It seems to be that the answer is clearly yes. This is damage to an over 200 year art piece through an intentional violation of museum rules (and commonsense).  However, should such crimes be the subject of just fines or require a short stint in jail?

In this case, the willingness of the man to turn himself into authorities is a significant mitigating factor to me.  There is obviously the cost of the repair and other collateral costs that must be paid. I am not inclined to jail people for sheer stupidity.  These people do not intend to destroy the art though I would distinguish the person who carved initials into the Colosseum.

The question I would raise is whether countries should start to ban individuals who engage in such acts from entry into the country. That would create a significant deterrent in my view.  Deterrence is often a relationship between the rate of detection and the size of the penalty. The rate of detection of such crimes are increasing with the use of security cameras.  Banishment is an old but effective punishment in such cases in my view.

What do you think the penalty should be?

30 thoughts on “Austrian Tourist Breaks Toes Off Sculpture In Italy While Taking Memorable Picture”

  1. Heartbreaking. There appears to be no rope to keep tourists back. Even though it does ruin the aesthetic a bit, it is required. The public should be viewed as a bunch of rowdy teenagers.

    When I was in Italy, there were staff there watching over the works. I recall a museum in Firenze that was so crowded with sculptures in some of the galleries that I was keenly aware of my klutziness. There definitely was an aspect of holding my breath when I was near statues or vases. Was it the Bargello? I recall that it would have been possible to touch the statues. In Rome, the Vatican took considerable more effort to protect La Pieta, probably because the faithful are so prone to collecting shards of various relics.

    I remember this statue, too, from my trip to Italy. I am very sorry for the state of her poor toes.

    I just remembered that one of the things I loved about Italy were its doors. So many buildings had ancient, intricately carved doors. The doors of Venezia, as well as the carvings on the buildings that face the canals.

    1. Karen……sounds lovely. Wish I could have gone at some point.

      I did visit the Louvre, and though I was a teenager, with other teenagers, we behaved! It helped that our chaperones were extremely strict.

      But you’re right, of course there should be ropes to “remind” tourists not to touch.( and to behave!)

      1. Cindy Bragg and Karen S – there are museums that invite the visitors to touch the sculptures and others that do not. I do so hope they can repair the Canova.

          1. Cindy Bragg – sadly only pictures. Too bad I could not have seen the model as well. 😉

  2. Yes, banning people from the country is a good step. While we’re at it, towns should be able to vote to banish social miscreants from their community like chronic criminals and violent or political extremists like Antifa/BLM. Can’t live within societal norms? Then f*ck off for a few years until you do.

  3. The fact that they were able to break the toes to begin with, leaves the greater stupidity of those who did nothing to prevent it.

  4. Museums are (or should be) obliged to take reasonable steps to manage risk to their exhibits. They should accept that as part of the cost of doing business. Roping floor exhibits off is a reasonable measure to show museum patrons where they may go and where they may not. It could have prevented this entire incident.

    The next gradation of risk management is insurance against intentional vandalism, theft and accidents. It’s sad to say, but when you show valuable items as a business, that’s just part of the cost of doing business.

    The degree to which the Austrian tourist intended to break the toes off that statue is something the tourist and the museum can either work out between then or submit to a court.or other arbitration. Restitution’s another matter to be worked out between the museum and the tourist.

    Thanks for sharing this story, Professor. It’s nice to know there are places where statues and other public displays of art are respected, not destroyed to make a political point.

  5. Lawlessness is the global modus operandi.

    Abraham Lincoln “…destroyed ourselves [America] from within…,” through multiple gross and egregious unconstitutional acts – from denial of constitutional secession and the commencement and prosecution of an undeclared war, to the suspension of Habeas Corpus and confiscation of private property, through the failure, negligence and dereliction of not deporting illegal aliens en masse created by his Emancipation Proclamation, which altered the status of slaves from “property” to “illegal alien” by way of the Naturalization Act of 1802, which was in full force and effect upon the proclamation’s date of issuance requiring citizens to be “…free white person(s)…,” culminating in the improper and unconstitutional ratification by Lincoln’s successors of their invalid and illegitimate “Reconstruction Amendments” under the duress of the brutal post-war military occupation of an oppressed and war-torn nation.

    Obama committed the high crime of candidacy and occupation of the office of president in a status of ineligibility, he not being a “natural born citizen.” Obama, in alliance with the criminals of high office, the Congress and Supreme Court, forced unconstitutional Obamacare (ACA) on America. Obama usurped power by engaging in “executive overreach” “…by delaying the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate without permission from Congress, but it is increasingly likely that Republicans will also challenge the president’s expected executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.” Obama weaponized the IRS agaisnt conservative political opponents. Obama caused the death of an Ambassador and three other Americans through dereliction and negligence. Obama is persists in his Obama Coup D’etat in America while it is currently under investigation by John Durham.

    President Trump irrefutbaly has the moral and precedent authority to engage in significant, similar, unpenalized “executive overreach” to save the Republic.

    1. “Crazy Abe” Lincoln won 1860 with 38.7% of the vote and 1864 by brute military force.

  6. Statues are being pulled down by mobs and nobody is prosecuted for destruction of those works of art, so I can’t say prosecuting a guy for making a mistake for which there was no criminal intent is justice. Charge him the cost of the epoxy needed to glue it back on.

  7. This reminds me of the old Greek philosophical question posed several thousand years ago. At a sporting event, a bystander is skewered by a javelin and killed. Who is to blame: the javelin thrower, the event planner for allowing the spectator so close to danger, or the javelin. There are lawyers, equally distributed, who could and do argue for each.

  8. All structures and paintings within any museum should be roped off to prevent any damage.

    He should pay for all repairs and be charged with misdemeanor such as vandalism or similar.

      1. Uh, because they’re fragile and there are a lot of people around. This isn’t that difficult.

    1. I agree. Michaelangelo’s “David” has a thick glass barrier that is about 5 ft. tall that surrounds the base, situated far enough away from the statute to prevent anyone from being able to touch it or knock it over. The statute itself is on an even taller pedestal. Yet, you can see everything in detail.

  9. The museum is partially at fault for not properly protecting the sculpture. Why isn’t it roped off?

    This guy wanted to get his pic taken with a beautiful work of art. That’s completely normal. That the piece is not properly protected gave him the impression it is sturdier than it is.

    He is remorseful. He apologized. He has taken responsibility. I suspect he understands he must pay for the repairs. I’d say that’s penalty enough. Accidents happen.

    It’s not like he’s an arrogant, degenerate Democrat unlawfully pulling down statues and defacing public art with vulgar graffiti.

    1. “The museum is partially at fault for not properly protecting the sculpture. Why isn’t it roped off?”

      Sorry, but I strongly disagree with this. No one in a museum should have an expectation that a sculpture is meant to be touched or climbed upon.

      Moreover, one of the nice things about visiting old and historical sites in Europe is that they tend not to idiot-proof everything like they do in the US.

      Let’s have high expectations for people and hold them accountable.

      1. Sorry, but I strongly disagree with this. No one in a museum should have an expectation that a sculpture is meant to be touched or climbed upon.

        No one should, but anyone who deals with the public knows there’s a non-zero population of idiots in this world, and you have to contain the harm they do. You have curators and you have a security apparat for a reason.

  10. I would submit that it is very likely the only reason this guy came forward is because he realized it was just a matter of time until he was identified through the security camera video and decided he’d be let off more lightly if he turned himself in rather than wait for them to figure out who he was.

    I’d give a lot more credence to his assertions of sorrow if he’d ‘fessed up from the get-go rather than waiting until it was clear he was eventually going to be identified.

    1. Sailorcurt – agreed. He only ‘fessed up because he was caught on tape and it was only a matter of time. As I said earlier, pay for the damages and ban him from the country for 10 years.

  11. As punishment, break off a few of this idiot’s toes, and as restitution, make them pay for the damages and banish them from the museums and art works of this country.

  12. The guy probably watches too much CNN International and concluded that destroying statues is a mighty fine thing.

  13. If the guy did only accidentally break the statue and did turn himself in upon realizing that he damaged it, then he should be responsible for the repair, plus a hefty fine for crossing the line. Art restorers can accomplish amazing repairs but they aren’t cheap. A fine should be substantial enough to register in the public’s ear a distinct warning. There is no need to ban the idiot. Unless he is extremely wealthy, paying out upwards of fifty thousand Euros should make the point.

  14. These are not examples of narcissism, but of stupidity and self-absorption. Also, the curators of these exhibits needed to arrange them to protect the objects in their charge. You cannot anticipate everything, of course, but this doesn’t sound like due diligence.

    Now, ask yourself in which state law code is there a penalty for vandalism due to recklessness or criminal negligence and you’ll see how it’s been treated. These sound like torts rather than crimes.

  15. He should pay to fix it.
    I day to him: Go back to Austria and stay out of Italy but watch your fingers or toes when around Italians who want revenge.

  16. This is one of my favorite pieces by Canova, who was a sculpture of exceptional talent. He should be fined the cost of repairs and banned from the country for 10 years.

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