Man denied Pope audience smashes two statues in Vatican's Chiaramonti Museum

Broken artefacts each about 2,000 years old and latest in spate of cultural damage in Rome

A collection of ancient busts in the Chiaramonti Museum in Rome. Getty Images
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A US tourist on Wednesday purposely smashed an antiquarian statue and accidentally smashed another in the Vatican's Chiaramonti Museum while attempting to flee Vatican police after being denied an audience with Pope Francis.

The broken artefacts are each about 2,000 years old but were described as “minor works” by a museum employee, who also said the fracas had left staff feeling “shocked”.

They were moved to a conservation laboratory and “experts are weighing the damage and proceeding to recover the fragments for immediate restoration”, a representative told Italian paper Il Messaggero.

The full identity of the male culprit, believed to be in his fifties, and his reason for wanting to speak to the Pope is as yet unclear but a Vatican statement said he had been handed over to Italian authorities for questioning. Italian outlets have speculated he might have been suffering from mental health issues.

Chiaramonti is renowned for its busts and houses about 1,000 historic sculptures in total. Its most famous effigy is that of Roman Emperor Augustus.

Both of the battered busts were anchored to plinths and museum staff receive training in dealing with troublesome tourists. Yet the incident is bound to raise questions over whether there are enough measures in place to safeguard the Vatican's many treasures.

Chiaramonte's famed effigy Augustus von Prima Porta. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The question was already being considered by Vatican authorities following a spate of damage to Rome's cultural assemblage after tourism cranked up following Covid lockdown measures.

A meeting is planned next week to discuss security preparations for the coming year, Il Messaggero reported.

Updated: October 06, 2022, 5:24 PM