Austrian tourist taking photo with 200-year-old sculpture breaks its toes

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An Austrian tourist who visited an art museum in northern Italy last week apologized after damaging a 200-year-old statue.

The man — who was on a trip to celebrate his 50th birthday — posed with the 19th-century plaster creation. It depicts 25-year-old Pauline Bonaparte, an Italian duchess and imperial French princess, who is portrayed in repose on a couch.

The tourist sat down at the feet of Bonaparte and mimicked her posture for a quick photo, keeping his neon sneakers planted on the tile floor, the New York Times reported.


However, upon rising, it was apparent in video footage that Bonaparte had lost some toes in the process, according to the Times.

As the tourist went about the rest of his day, local authorities worked to track him using visitor logs at the Gypsotheca Museum in Possagno. First, they contacted the man’s wife who left her contact information with the museum under its mandatory COVID-19 contact-tracing rules.

CNN reported on Wednesday that police noted the woman burst into tears when they spoke to her about the incident.

In a letter to the president of the foundation that oversees the museum, part of which was posted on Facebook, the Austrian said he had not realized the toes had snapped off, the Times reported.

“During the visit, I sat on the statue, without realizing the damage that I evidently caused,” he wrote.

“I am asking you for information on what steps are necessary on my part in this situation,” the man urged, “which is very unpleasant for me and for which, in the first place, I apologize in every way.”

Vittorio Sgarbi, the foundation president, replied in a statement: “I appreciate the civic sense of this citizen, and I take note of his words of embarrassment for what happened.”

Sgarbi initially posted a plea to police on Facebook asking for assurance that the tourist’s actions would not go “unpunished” and an Italian court was reportedly weighing whether to press charges.

The museum said in a Facebook post that it was making a plan for the statue’s restoration, although there is some discrepancy about how many are missing.

Bonaparte’s second husband, Camilo Borghese, commissioned the seminude sculpture of Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister by the Italian artist Antonio Canova in 1805. Canova presented the finished product — known as “Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix” — in 1808.

Notably, the plaster model has endured worse: During World War I, a shell broke through the museum’s roof, according to the Times.


At the start of World War II, statues were temporarily moved to the Temple of Possagno, a Catholic church designed by Canova in the town where he was born.

The marble counterpart of Bonaparte’s plaster model currently resides in the Borghese Gallery in Rome.

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