Michelangelo’s Works Have Been Vandalized


Because they are immediately and enduringly compelling, brilliant artistic works achieve greatness for a reason. And the best works of art you can locate in the archives of the Guggenheim, the Met, the Whitney, and other places are unquestionably examples of the greatness being talked about. 

However, there is a downside to how masterpieces can capture the imagination: they can also serve as motivation for emotionally disturbed or insane people to vandalize the piece. Furthermore, they give a variety of justifications for doing so, such as religious visions, jealousy, and assertions that vandalism is a manner of protest. 

At MoMA, the latter happened in a well-known incident involving Pablo Picasso’s most famous painting. Despite their unfortunate circumstances, these incidents serve as fascinating case studies of how great art can positively and negatively affect us. While learning about the artist Michelangelo, here is a look at some of the damaged Michelangelo artworks.

Michelangelo’s David 

A man the police described as insane broke part of a toe with a hammer in a Florence museum, damaging Michelangelo’s masterpiece “David.” And David is perhaps the most well-known Michelangelo artwork in the entire world. He claimed that a Venetian painter’s model from the 16th century had ordered him to do so.

The damage could be repaired, according to representatives of the Galleria dell’Accademia museum, since every piece of the broken toe had been saved. But Antonio Paolucci, the museum’s director, added: “There is still a moral impact. The most recognizable statue in the whole world has been harmed.”

Between 1501 and 1504, the 13-foot-tall statue was crafted from a single block of marble. A replica of the original, which was recently attacked, is kept in a museum. According to the police, the statue’s left second toe was broken when 47-year-old unemployed Italian Piero Cannata struck it with a hammer concealed beneath his jacket. 

Museum visitors were holding him down until the police showed up. Cannata spent a brief period in a psychiatric facility after being determined to be of an unsound mind. After his release, he found work as a museum tour guide, giving tours of David and other works of art from Tuscany.

Later, he was discovered to have committed other vandalism acts, including:

  • In Prato cathedral’s fresco by Renaissance artist Filippo Lippi, he was caught by police vandalizing it in 1993.
  • In the early 1990s, he targeted Michele di Raffaello della Colombe’s famed artifact, “The Adoration of the Shepherds Baby Jesus.” The painting is showcased at the basilica Santa Maria delle Carceri.
  • In 1999, he was readmitted to a mental hospital after marking up a Jackson Pollock painting on display in Rome with a marker. Apprehended, he admitted that he had intended to damage an abstract painting by Italian artist Piero Manzoni.
  • In 2005, he spray-painted a black “x” onto a plaque honoring the reformer and preacher Girolamo Savonarola, who was killed by burning in the Piazza della Signoria.

Ceiling Of The Sistine Chapel. Sybils Erithraea – Michelangelo

Attack on Michelangelo’s Pietà in 1972

The story of one of the famous works by Michelangelo is quite interesting. In St. Peter’s Basilica in 1972, a Hungarian man named Laszlo Toth scaled an altar rail and smashed Michelangelo’s Pietà with a hammer while yelling he was Jesus Christ who had risen from the dead.

Toth’s roughly 15 hammer blows caused significant damage to the Renaissance masterpiece, which depicts the Madonna carrying the fallen body of Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. Toth knocked the left of the Madonna at the elbow during the attack, scraping off her eyelid and a sizable portion of her nose in the presence of shocked pilgrims.

Bystanders quickly restrained the 33-year-old Toth, including American sculptor Bob Cassily, who struck the attacker multiple times before dragging him away from La Pietà. Around 100 pieces of this work by Michelangelo, crafted from a single Carrara marble block before it was finally revealed in 1499, were scattered across the chapel floor. Some attendees took these chipped remains home as “souvenirs,” and at least one of them later sent the souvenir piece back to Rome confidentially from the US.

The Prophet Jeremiah – Michelangelo

Restorating the Pietà

Art historians disagreed on the best course of action for the restoration, leaving the Vatican in a pickle. Others argued that it should be repaired while separating the recreated components from the original. Finally, some experts claimed that the statue should be left in its damaged state.

According to Reuters, the Vatican ultimately decided on an “integral” procedure that is not visible to the naked eye, leading to perhaps one of the most intricate and complicated art restorations in history. Before putting the tiny, sometimes-misshapen fragments back together, restorers spent over five months trying to identify each one.

About ten months following the attack, the long and tedious restoration was finished, and the Pietà was again on display, but this time behind bulletproof glass.

How did Laszlo Toth fare?

Toth was never accused of the crime because of his alleged insanity. He was admitted to an Italian mental hospital in January 1973. In February 1975, Toth was released and sent to Australia. He vanished into obscurity after Australian authorities chose not to arrest him. 


Iconoclasm was a common phenomenon in the previous century. Iconoclastic activities, like those during the French Revolution, have periodically shaped the development of Western art. These movements were frequently driven by political motives, with the idea that by destroying symbols of power, one could theoretically weaken that power. In contrast, individual, unrelated acts of iconoclasm are typically linked to mental disturbances.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognize artworks’ influence on each of us. An iconoclastic act is more than just a publicity stunt; it’s an attempt to loosen the grip that a certain image or portion of a portrait has on the individual’s imagination.

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