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You Break a Museum Artifact, What Happens Next?

You Break a Museum Artifact, What Happens Next?
Tread carefully in museums, Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Recently, the world got to know about an Austrian tourist who damaged a 200-year-old statue in Italy

Trinetra Paul
August 09 , 2020
02 Min Read

Some days back, social media platforms were flooded with a video of a tourist who decided to pose a bit too close to a work displayed at Museo Canova in Italy, and in the process, broke three toes of the 19th-century plaster model. It was the statue of Pauline Bonaparte, the sister of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, made by the  Italian Neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova.

Though the man tried to walk away after the accident, the accident was captured by CCTV cameras. The 50-year-old Austrian apologised for the damage, “It was irresponsible behavior on my part,” he wrote in a letter to the museum, according to its Facebook page.

This brings up an intriguing question. What actually happens if you accidentally damage a museum display or an artifact? Are you liable to a criminal charge and damages? 

Well, it depends on the museum. Almost all displays across museums are covered under insurance, so most often in cases of accident, you would not find yourself facing any damages or charges as it is taken care of by the insurance company. You will however face some interrogation by authorities who may want to understand how the accident occurred, and they might restrict your visit or ban you from visiting the museum.

In the case of the broken toes of the Pauline Bonparte statue, the authorities carried out a thorough search and on examining the 200-year-old statue, they concluded that it can be repaired.

In a rare case, reported by The Vice, when a five-year-old boy broke an exhibit in a local community museum in London in 2018, the parents had to pay a whopping amount of $132,000, as the sculptor himself was present there and on examining declared that it was beyond repair.

Similar incidents of carelessness have been recorded in the past and museum authorities have taken several conscious measures to check the damages caused but it is not possible to seal every item on display in glass cases. Not only will that increase the cost of maintenance but also pose threat to several items, especially age-old classic paintings whose paints need natural air and light to retain the same texture and colour even after hundreds of years. 

So if you’re planning a visit to a museum, just be careful to not knock off anything accidentally in order to avoid public embarrassment or being barred from the place forever. 


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