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The Top 12 Most Horribly Defaced Art Pieces of All Time

Updated September 23, 2021 65.7k views12 items

Everyone's a critic. But whether one loves or abhors a piece of art, most people still respect the work enough to leave it intact. Not in these cases. This list of the top 10 most unbelievable defilements contains the funniest, most shocking, and just plain weirdest defacements ever to occur in the art world.

Over the years, art vandals have used hammers, cleavers, paint, acid, fists, and even hot tea to maim famous paintings and sculptures. One Denver woman actually used her bare rear end.

In most cases, the art is restorable. In fact, some say that vandalism adds to a piece's history and winds up a part of the work itself.

Check out more lists like the greatest Baroque artists in history, famous Impressionist artists and the best Art Noveau artists
  • 5

    Michaelangelo's "David" Survives Hammer Beating

    Photo: flickr / CC0

    In 1991, a 47-year-old, unemployed, Italian man named Piero Cannata entered the Galleria dell'Accademia museum in Florence with a hammer hidden in his jacket. When he approached Michaelangelo's "David" sculpture, which some hail as the most famous sculpture in the world, he took out his weapon and attacked the piece, breaking one of the toes of the left foot.

    Museum-goers attempted to stop the attacker from causing any further damage until security arrived on the scene. Cannata, who police described as "deranged," claimed that he committed the act because a 16th-century Venetian painter's model, "Nani," had instructed him to. Ultimately, all fragments of the toe were recovered, allowing the sculpture to be repaired. At least the David's most "special" part was safe, since Cannata was too short to reach it.

    In 2005, Cannata was caught spray-painting a giant X on a plaque set into the ground of the Piazza della Signoria. When asked why he did it, he said it was because the sentence on the plaque "made no sense."
    • 6

      "Rokeby Venus" Defiled with a Meat Cleaver

      Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

      The "Rokeby Venus" by Diego Velázquez goes by many names: "La Venus del espejo," "Venus and Cupid," "The Toilet of Venus," (really?) and "Venus at her Mirror." Most likely, suffragette Mary Richardson didn't care much what the painting was called when she attacked the piece with her meat cleaver at London’s National Gallery in 1914. She managed to inflict seven large slash wounds on the painting in her attempt to "destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history."

      Pankhurst committed the offense to protest the arrest of friend and fellow suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst. She thought of the defacement as payback for the government destroying "the most beautiful character in modern history." Richardson served six months in jail for her actions.
      • 7

        Banksy Vs. King Robbo

        Video: YouTube

        Now-mainstream street artist Banksy apparently has a running feud with King Robbo, who is credited with founding the London graffiti scene. In October, 2011, one of Banksy's pieces in Bristol was painted over in solid black, along with the tagging "Team Robbo." The piece, which featured a child standing behind a police officer with a blown-up paper bag, ready to burst it, had been in place for four years above a store in Bristol. It is unclear whether or not it will be restored.

        It is not quite clear who defaced Banksy's work. King Robbo is said to be retired, and the act could have been committed by him or by one of his followers. Robbo and Banksy (or perhaps their fans – hard to know given the elusive nature of the genre) have been defacing each other's work for the past two years.
        • 8

          Woman Attacks Gauguin's Two Tahitian Women


          On April Fool's Day of 2011, a 53-year-old Tea Party member Susan Burns paid a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and strolled in to the "Gauguin" display. When she came upon the painting "Two Tahitian Women," she broke into a fury and attacked the piece, trying to wrench it off of the wall and punching it.

          The painting, covered by Plexi-glass, was not harmed. However, police arrested Burns for her actions. She later stated that she thought Gaugin was evil and denounced the painting, which portrays two topless women, for having homosexual overtones. "I was trying to remove it. I think it should be burned," she claimed. Tea partiers are crazy.