Italian police track down tourist who snapped off statue’s toes taking selfie

Police hunting for a mystery vandal who broke the toes off an Italian statue have identified an Austrian tourist who fled after lying on it to snap that perfect photograph.

Italian police track down tourist who snapped off statue's toes taking selfie
The marble version of Antonio Canova's statue in Rome, toes intact. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Three toes were damaged on the right foot of a plaster statue of a reclining Pauline Bonaparte, by Italian neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova, at the Gypsotheca Museum in Possagno, northern Italy, police said in a statement on Tuesday.

The plaster statue with three toes missing. Photo: Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova/Facebook 

The plaster cast was the original for a final marble version — which portrays the sister of French Emperor Napoleon as Venus — now housed in Rome's Galleria Borghese.

Apparently hoping to imitate the pose captured in the plaster model, which was made in 1804, the tourist sprawled on top of it while his wife took a picture.

In video surveillance footage, he can then be seen standing up, spotting the damage, and hesitating, before quickly walking away.

Police said they had been able to track down the couple through their online ticket reservation, which is required as part of Italy's Covid-19 precautions. Contacted by telephone, the man's wife broke down into tears and confessed that her husband was responsible, the statement said.

The 50-year-old man sent an email to the police shortly afterwards to apologise. He has offered to pay for the repair to the statue, according to several Italian media reports.

The tourist acknowledged his “irresponsible behaviour” but insisted he didn't realise the damage he had caused, according to a translation of the apology note published on the Gypsotheca Museum's Facebook page. The museum said it was already working to plan how the statue would be restored. 

It houses the original plaster cast models of Canova, Italy's most famous 18th century sculptor, who died in 1822.

Member comments

  1. What people will do for a photo these days, including sitting on a precious work of art! I was relieved that for once it was not someone from the country where I reside.

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La Bella Vita: The best Italian-language podcasts, and unexpected foods you’ll find in Italy

From Italian podcasts to surprising delicacies and our favourite overlooked travel destinations, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: The best Italian-language podcasts, and unexpected foods you'll find in Italy

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

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