Pictures circulated on social media, confirmed by a museum representative to The Post, showed damaged busts scattered on the marble floor. The museum said one of them had lost part of his nose and ear.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See’s press office, told The Post that the Vatican police handed the man over to Italian authorities on Wednesday.
A police spokesman said the 65-year-old had been in Rome about three days ago and appeared to be “psychologically disturbed”. The spokesman said he was sentenced for an aggravated property damage charge and released.
Matteo Alessandrini, a spokesman for the Vatican Museums, said the man was carrying a paid ticket and appeared to be there alone, one of 20,000 visitors that day.
“He smashed the two statues to the ground, one by one,” said Alessandrini. Both deposed heads were from the ancient city of Rome, one depicting an old man and the other a young man.
When the first blow hit the ground, he said, “a powerful explosion reverberated in the long hallway.” The two Vatican police officers stationed inside the museum arrived within minutes and detained the man.
Technicians are now working on reassembling the damaged sculptures, which was done quickly taken to Museum restoration lab after the accident.
The pieces were repairable but required 300 hours of restoration work, according to Alessandrini. “The horror was greater than the actual damage,” he said.
Rick Steves, who runs a tour company in Europe, said that although all the artifacts in the museum could be considered valuable, the damaged ones were relatively insignificant.
For Stevens, the downside to such incidents may be “loss of access to fine art in general”.
To avoid further incidents, the museum could choose to increase security, as was the case after the infamous artwork attack in 1972. That year, a Hungarian geologist Michelangelo attacked Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica with a hammer, damaging a Carrara marble statue depicting the Virgin Mary She carries Jesus after the crucifixion. The statue was later repaired and placed behind bulletproof glass.
“The truth is you can’t even see the Pieta from the angle that Michelangelo wanted you to see,” said Steves. “He wanted you to be close.”
The Vatican Museums, where millions of people flocked annually before the pandemic, reopened last year after coronavirus restrictions closed them or limited business hours.
Francis reported from London. Compton reported from the capital
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”