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US tourist smashes two ancient Vatican busts after being told he couldn't see Pope Francis

An American tourist knocked over two 2,000-year-old works of art when he was refused a meeting with Pope Francis, and a witness claimed he was acting

US tourist arrested for smashing two ancient Roman sculptures after learning he couldn’t see Pope Francis in the Vatican

  • A US tourist knocked down two ancient Roman busts in the Vatican Museums after learning he couldn’t meet Pope Francis
  • The man was arrested by Vatican police after being restrained by museum staff
  • The busts were damaged but not beyond repair, and efforts to restore the work have already begun

An American tourist toppled two ancient Roman busts in the Vatican Museums on Wednesday, causing moderate damage to the art when told he could not meet Pope Francis.

A museum source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the man was in his 50s and had “behaved in a strange way “.

The man allegedly threw himself into a bust when told he couldn’t see Pope Francis, and collided with another as he tried to flee from the safety of the museum.

He knocked both busts off their pedestals in the museum’s Chiaramonti room, which houses more than 1,000 pieces and is one of the most important collections of Roman busts.

An American tourist knocked over two 2,000-year-old works of art when he was refused a meeting with Pope Francis, and a witness claimed he was acting

A US tourist knocked over two 2,000-year-old works of art when he was denied a meeting with Pope Francis, and a witness claimed he was acting ‘strangely’

“The busts were fixed to the shelves with a nail but if you pull them with force they will come off,” Vatican Museums spokesman Matteo Alessandrini told CNN.

‘The 2 busts were damaged but not particularly badly. One lost part of a nose and an ear, the other’s head came off the pedestal,” Alessandrini said.

Museum staff restrained the man and Vatican police arrived minutes later to arrest him.

Both busts were damaged but not badly, the source said, adding that they had already been taken to the museums restoration lab for repair.

Photos taken by visitors and posted on social media showed the two broken busts lying on the marble floor. A source reportedly said the two pieces are not major works of art but are around 2,000 years old.

After having to close or reduce opening hours during years of COVID restrictions, museums are now welcoming tourists in droves. Museums received some six million visitors a year before the pandemic.

The most notorious assault on artwork in the Vatican took place in 1972 when a Hungarian jumped over a side altar in St. Peter’s Basilica and attacked Michelangelo’s Pietà with a hammer. He knocked off the Madonna’s left arm and chipped her nose and veil.

This Renaissance masterpiece is now behind bulletproof glass.

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