Miguel Ángel, Rembrandt, Velázquez... The greatest attacks that the great masterpieces have suffered

Revenge, frustration or supposed religious motives, throughout history art aggressors have grabbed headlines for trying to destroy great masterpieces.

Miguel Ángel, Rembrandt, Velázquez... The greatest attacks that the great masterpieces have suffered

Revenge, frustration or supposed religious motives, throughout history art aggressors have grabbed headlines for trying to destroy great masterpieces.

In 1914, Velázquez's 'Venus in front of the mirror' was attacked as a vindication of the struggle for gender equality. Emmeline Pankhurst, undisputed leader of the British suffrage movement, was arrested in a riot for women's right to vote. The next day, her partner Mary Richardson wanted revenge on her. She entered the National Gallery in London and stabbed the Velázquez painting seven times. Although the canvas suffered significant damage, the work could be repaired.

Before throwing a cake this Sunday, stones, paint and even a porcelain cup have been thrown at the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

In 1957 Hugo Unzuaga Villegas stoned the smile of the 'Gioconda' after stoning her and breaking the glass that saved her from the cake. The attack caused minor damage to the work, to his left elbow, and the family hastened to say that his mental faculties had been disturbed for some time. A little later, in 1974, shortly after the Tokyo National Museum opened its doors on the Gioconda's first day of display, a Japanese woman in a wheelchair tried to smear the painting with red spray paint.

'The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist', by Leonardo da Vinci has been damaged twice. The first was in 1962, when a German painter threw a jar of paint at the work of in the National Gallery in London. The second took place in 1987 and the cause was Robert Cambridge, a 37-year-old unemployed man who wanted to protest the political, social and economic situation in the United Kingdom. He broke into the museum minutes before it closed and fired at the work, but the impact was stopped by the glass that had been placed to protect the canvas.

In June 1968, a panel by Van der Weyden and other paintings in the Museo del Padro were punctured by Antonio Utrera Tabares, who, after committing his act, called a Madrid newspaper to report it.

Michelangelo's 'Piedad' was attacked on May 21, 1972. Laszlo Toth, a Bulgarian geologist living in Australia, climbed onto the base where the famous sculpture sits in St. Peter's Basilica to try to decapitate it with a sharp blow with a hammer. After unloading ten blows against the head of the Virgin, Toth began to hit him in the face until a fireman managed to knock him down. The Bulgarian justified his action as an order received from heaven to restore the truth about the Mother of God, who does not exist, as he said, because God is eternal. 'La Piedad' was restored and Toth spent two years confined to an insane asylum.

In September 1975, an unemployed Dutch professor entered the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, pounced on Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' and stabbed him twelve times. The painting was damaged in its lower right part and, although it was later restored, the cuts in the canvas can still be seen. The assailant claimed that he carried out the attack by "a divine command." It has not been the first time that the painting has suffered damage, but it has been the most serious. In 1911 a navy cook tried to tear the painting with a knife, but the cut was superficial and in 1990 a psychiatric patient threw sulfuric acid on it.

Another tremendously iconic work that was vandalized was that of the French painter Eugene Delacroix, 'Liberty Leading the People', damaged in 2013 by a woman who wrote a message on the canvas exhibited in the Louvre museum in Paris. With a marker she put "AE911" at the bottom of the box, whose meaning was related to a conspiracy theory about the 9/11 attacks in the United States and a request made through the internet. The woman was detained and the inscription was superficial so that it could be easily erased.

The most complex to fix was the mural 'Black on Maroon', by Mark Rothko, painted in 1958, which was 'injured' in 2012 by a Polish activist who used graffiti paint and seriously damaged the work. They took 18 months of restoration work to re-hang the work at London's Tate Modern and even built a replica to find out the best way to proceed: they needed nine months to identify the right solvent to remove the graffiti and other nine to apply it. The paint used to attack the work penetrated several of its layers and affected the canvas.

In 2010, the painting by the Dutch artist Jan Victors exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was damaged by a young student from the Faculty of Fine Arts, who used a knife to attack it. The damage consisted of six three-centimeter scratches in the paint layer and was restored without any damage to the surface of the work.

Claude Monet's work 'Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat' has returned to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin after 18 months of restoration work. In 2012 a man punched the canvas on display in the gallery. The painting was cracked and the author was arrested. “It was great and shocking damage that shocked us,” explained the director of the museum, Sean Rainbird, with the return of the painting to the gallery. He has also highlighted the brilliant work of the art gallery's team of restorers and conservators.

This other story caused great fun and stir with a valuable avant-garde painting by the Russian artist Anna Leporskaya, which was destroyed by a 'bored' security guard (according to local media) who drew on it with a pen on his first day of work in a Russian gallery. Reading events like this, the good performance of the Human Resources department seems more fundamental every day. The painting 'Three Figures', valued at 75 million rubles (877,000 euros), was exhibited in an abstract art exhibition at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center in Yekaterinburg, a museum facility dedicated to the former Russian president and with exhibition halls, a place in the one that debuted the vigilante who, armed with a pen, drew eyes on the faceless faces of Leporskaya's painting.

Finally, we must not forget to mention Banksy. Throughout his mysterious career, his street works have been vandalized numerous times. But what was extremely shocking was that the artist himself self-destructed his own piece after it had been auctioned. I'm sure they remember it. It was 2018, and the artist himself spread the photo on Instagram of the moment in which the canvas of 'Girl With Ballon' was shredded when passing through a paper shredder installed in the lower part of the frame. It had only reached 1.22 million euros at auction at Sotheby's.

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