The unnamed man was caught on video reclining next to the 19th-century “Paolina Borghese as Venus Victrix” sculpture at the Museo Antonio Canova on 31 July.
CCTV footage shows him pose for a picture, before he appears to realise the damage he’s caused, looking down and touching part of the sculpture.
However, he did not report the incident, according to the museum, which is based in Possagno in northeast Italy.
The Museo Antonio Canova shared pictures of the broken piece in a Facebook post, writing: “Yesterday an Austrian tourist sat on the sculpture of Paolina Borghese causing two toes to break, then hurriedly left the museum, without reporting the fact.
“A few minutes later our room guards detected the damage and raised the alarm. An emergency situation was immediately declared.”
The post finished: “Our heritage must be protected: adopting responsible behaviour within the museum while respecting the works preserved in it is not only a civic duty, but a sign of respect for what our history and culture testifies, and that must be proudly handed down to future generations.”
Plans are afoot to perform restoration work on the sculpture.
The mayor of Possagno, Valerio Favero, called the tourist’s actions “criminal”.
He told Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano: ”The really incredible thing is that he had not thought of reporting the incident.
“In my eyes, the fact of leaving the sculpture in that condition is criminal.”
The man was identified due to new track and trace measures, which requires museum visitors to sign in and leave their contact details.
After he was contacted, the guilty party sent an apologetic email to the police, according to Italian news agency Adnkronos.
“During the visit to the Museum of Possagno, I sat on the statue, without realising the damage that I evidently caused,” he reportedly wrote. “I apologise in every way.”
It remains unclear whether the man will be charged.
The sculpture is a plaster cast of the marble version currently housed in Rome’s Galleria Borghese, and was created in 1804 by Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies