Weeks of rumour in the art world were confirmed last week by the Louvre in Paris, when it admitted that, as a three-year restoration programme for one of the world's greatest paintings was drawing to a close, there was a catastrophic accident.
But the exact circumstances are still murky. Reports from the Louvre suggested that the picture was hung on the scaffolding to dry out because it became splashed with rain after someone forgot to close a ventilation shaft. Pierre Rosenberg, the Louvre's chief curator of paintings, agreed last week that the painting had become 'slightly wet', but declined to say how this had happened. Gerard Brugere of ICI France, which has spent four million francs on sponsoring the restoration, denied that any rain touched the Veronese, painted in 1562. And a French museums spokeswoman completed the confusion by confirming that 'a storm occurred on 1 June, when a few raindrops came through the roof on to the picture'.
However, all are agreed that the restorer's nightmare took place as museum staff tried to put the painting, which measures nearly seven metres by ten, on to a special scaffold, which then collapsed.
The museums spokeswoman explained: 'Several men were trying to put the painting on the ground. The movement . . . caused the scaffolding to fall. We don't know why. Several pieces of metal damaged the picture in five places. What is important is that not one of the faces in the picture was damaged.' The tears primarily hit architectural details. 'It's a miracle.'
Mr Rosenberg said: 'We will restore it quickly. The picture fell down slowly and was slightly damaged . . . Nothing is missing.'
Efforts to verify the damage came to naught. The original restoration was held in public; the new, unscheduled restoration is taking place behind closed doors.