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David's foot vandal returns to attack Florentine plaque
John Hooper
The Guardian, 17 ottobre 2005

Curators and guardians of Italy's artistic heritage, much of it on open display, will be on high alert this week following the discovery that the country's most persistent art vandal is back in action.
Piero Cannata, who earned worldwide notoriety by taking a hammer to Michelangelo's David, confessed to local newspapers in Tuscany that he had struck again in the very centre of Florence. It was discovered that somebody had sprayed a thick black "x" on a plaque, set into the paving of Piazza della Signoria, commemorating the burning to death of the 15th-century preacher and reformer Girolamo Savonarola.


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Mr Cannata said that he had tried to cover it up "because it has a sentence that doesn't make any sense".
The plaque has no intrinsic artistic merit and the damage was speedily put right by local authority contractors. But the incident has highlighted the vulnerability of more valuable works and reignited a debate over how best to protect them from thieves, vandals and people who are mentally disturbed.

As the head of the Carabiniere's art theft unit said earlier this year, Italy is an "open-air museum ... many of its most celebrated and valuable works of art stand on streets and in squares, and nowhere is this more true than in Florence".

Mina Gregori, a retired lecturer in art history at the city's university, said the latest episode showed that treasures in and around Florence's most famous square did not have 24-hour protection. "Otherwise the security guards would have seen what was going on."

This is the second instance of vandalism in Piazza della Signoria in just over two months. In August, a man climbed on the towering statue of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati and snapped off the sea god's right hand.

Ms Gregori has been pressing for the removal of another masterpiece, Benevenuto Cellini's bronze of Perseus beheading Medusa, which stands in the adjacent Loggia del Lanzi.

"Either the council deploys security guards around the clock, or the statue should be taken into a museum," she said yesterday. However, being taken inside proved no safeguard for Michelangelo's David, which stood in the Piazza della Signoria until it was moved to the Galleria dell'Accademia in 1873. In 1991 Mr Cannata managed to smuggle a hammer into the museum with which he smashed off the second toe of the biblical hero's left foot.

Sicilian-born Mr Cannata, a former student of aesthetics, was ruled mentally ill during his trial and put in a psychiatric hospital. However, he has since repeatedly been set free to wreak more havoc.

In 1993, a Carabiniere patrol found him defacing a fresco by the Renaissance master Filippo Lippi in Prato cathedral. Later the same year, he took a knife to another of the Tuscan city's treasures, the Adoration of the Shepherds Before Baby Jesus by the 16th-century artist Michele di Raffaello della Colombe in the basilica of Santa Maria delle Carceri. Mr Cannata was reported to have told police that "a force inside me urged me to do it".

In 1999, he was again sent to a psychiatric hospital after scribbling with a marker pen on a Jackson Pollock painting in the national museum of modern art in Rome. He explained he had been looking for a work by the Italian abstract artist Piero Manzoni, "but I found an equally ugly one and damaged that instead".

The reappearance of the 58-year-old Mr Cannata was the last thing art custodians needed after a spate of recent attacks. In Rome, in July, the head of a bee was chopped off a Bernini fountain that stands at the entrance to the Via Veneto. Two months later part of another celebrated fountain, the Fontana della Navicella near the Colosseum, went missing.

Police said that in both cases they suspected the motive was robbery.

The chance of extra funds for the protection of art in Italy look bleak. Next year's budget includes deep cuts to local authority budgets.



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