Vatican marks anniversary of 1972 attack on Michelangelo’s Pieta

(Reuters) Forty-one years ago, a crazed Hungarian named Laszlo Toth jumped an altar railing in St. Peter’s Basilica and dealt 12 hammer blows to Michelangelo’s Pieta, severely damaging the Renaissance masterpiece.

To mark the attack on May 21, 1972, the Vatican Museums held a day-long seminar on Tuesday on the statue, the incident, and what subsequently became one of the most delicate and controversial art restorations in history.

In his attack on the statue, which depicts the Madonna holding the body of the dead Jesus minutes after he was taken down from the cross, the unemployed geologist knocked off her left arm and hand.

Toth, who alternately said he was Jesus Christ or Michelangelo, also broke her nose in three parts and left about 100 other fragments, including chips from the back of her head, lying on the floor of the chapel where it was on display.

At the time, art historians were divided on how to proceed with the restoration of the masterpiece.

The statue is so lifelike that a viewer can almost feel the curls of the dead Christ’s hair and the softness of the Madonna’s lips.

The veins in Christ’s muscular arms seem to be still holding blood. The folds in the Madonna’s veil seem made of muslin rather than marble.

When art historian Giorgio Vasari saw the statue in 1550 he wrote in his book about the lives of artists.

“It is a miracle that a rock, which before was without form, can take on such perfection that even nature sometimes struggles to create in the flesh”.

After the attack, some art historians and restorers wanted the statue to remain as it was damaged as a sign of the violent times. Others said it should be restored but with clear marks delineating the damaged parts as a historical testament. [More]