Lifestyle & Belief

A look at the world's most notorious art vandalism


U.S. National Park Service employees use a pressure washer to clean the Lincoln Memorial after it was vandalized with a splatter of green paint.


Chip Somodevilla

There's art, and then there's the art of controversy. 

Green paint was found splashed all over the statue of the 16th US president and the surrounding marble floors of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC Friday morning. Although the damage is not reported to have been permanent, the act of vandalism has nonetheless drawn condemnation from the National Park Service, with a spokewoman calling the attack “heartbreaking.”

The nation’s capital is no stranger to the wrath of vandals, although their acts are relatively rare. The Vietnam Memorial and the city's statue of Christopher Columbus were both targets during the past few decades.  

Yet this phenomenon is hardly unique to the United States. GlobalPost takes a look at some high-profile cases of public defacement around the world — some of them sanctioned as public political expressions:

1. The Pieta, Michelangelo

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Laslo Toth, a Hungarian man who was later sent to a mental hospital, attacked the marble statue 'The Pieta,' by Michelangelo, in Vatican City with a hammer in 1972.

2. Night Watch, Rembrandt

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The painting withstood a knife attack in 1911 and was cut again in 1975, sustaining a final stroke of misfortune when German Hans-Joachim Bohlmann, said to be mentally unstable, threw acid on the canvas in 1990. 

3. Saddam Hussein Statue

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A giant bronze statue of toppled Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's al-Fardous (paradise) square was pulled down in 2003, later replaced with the "Statue of Hope." Twenty days after US troops invaded Iraq, Marines pulled the statue down on live television.

4. Virgin and Child, da Vinci

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"The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne," by Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci, has had a good life in Paris's Louvre Museum. But a sketch of the final painting, called the Leonardo Cartoon, was blasted by a shotgun in 1987 at the National Gallery in London. Luckily, protective glass defended against the bulk of the damage.

5. Berlin Wall

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The Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, removing a political barrier between East and West Germany. What remains is mostly covered by street art or has been taken for exhibition.

6. The Little Mermaid

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Copenhagen's world famous tourist attraction, The Little Mermaid, was varnished with red paint by vandals in May 2007. The statue has also been decapitated twice: first in 1964, when the head was stolen and a new one recast, and again in 1998.

7. Bridge at Argenteuil, Monet

Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images

This painting by the French impressionist Claude Monet was "severely damaged" by inebriated young vandals who broke into the Musee d'Orsay in Paris one night in 2007. The teenagers were said to have punched the canvas, causing a large tear.

7. Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), Elias Garcia Martinez


Who could forget this last piece on the list. After a well-meaning elderly woman from a small Spanish town botched her retouching project of the 100-year-old painting, the infamous restoration flop has since taken on a life of its own.