Vandal attacks art in St Mark's Square

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The Independent Online

A vandal with a mallet and an obsession with smashing stone hands has galvanised Venice into frightened awareness of the vulnerability of its priceless heritage.

A vandal with a mallet and an obsession with smashing stone hands has galvanised Venice into frightened awareness of the vulnerability of its priceless heritage.

The attacker has now struck three times since being spotted at 10.30pm on Saturday , standing on a rubbish bin in St Mark's Square and swinging his hammer at one of the intricately worked capitals on the face of the cathedral. The piazza was still crowded with visitors but it took an art-loving vendor with a push cart to raise the alarm and give chase, unsuccessfully. He described the man as in his 50s and wearing a T-shirt and jeans.

The man succeeded in smashing the first of the 36 capitals, sadly one of the few that are original, breaking the hands of the figure and the mosaic tablets of the law which were held in them.

On Giudecca island, to the south, carvings of St Mark and St Francis stand in niches outside the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. Three of the four hands of the figures were amputated. Then yesterday it was discovered that the sculpture of St Peter outside the Church of San Pietro di Castello, on the island of the same name in the east of the city, had been disfigured in the same way. The sculpture depicts St Peter receiving a key from the Holy Infant, cradled in the arms of the Virgin Mary.

Police believe the same person is responsible for all three incidents. They are the first such acts of vandalism in living memory in Venice, but other parts of Italy have grown wearily familiar with lunatics with hammers. In the most infamous case, in 1991 a deranged artist named Piero Cannata launched a ferocious assault on Michelangelo's David in Florence, breaking one of its toes. Other victims in the past three decades include Michelangelo's Pieta , inside the Vatican's basilica, which was struck by a Hungarian refugee.

Venice's Superintendent for Environmental and Architectonic Assets, Giorgio Rossini, said: "We will consider a new strategy to reinforce surveillance. But I am sure this is only the isolated act of an unbalanced person."

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