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Top five defaced and damaged artworks

Not even art is safe from the angry. As Tate Britain's 'Art Under Attack' exhibition kicks off, we take a look at the history of mistreated masterpieces

Ahead of ‘Art Under Attack’, Tate Britain’s new show of artworks assaulted in the name of religion, politics and aesthetics, we pick five famous casualties and reveal how they met their fates.


‘The Dead Christ’ 1500-20

The art: An anonymous limestone carving of Christ, probably made as part of a medieval funeral monument.

The damage: Christ’s right arm, part of his left arm, sections of his legs and feet, his crown of thorns and the top of his head are missing after what’s thought to be a deliberate assault.

The motive: Protestant iconoclasm. During the reign of Henry VI in the 1540s, all images were ordered to be removed from churches. It’s assumed the attack took place during this time, when it was also taken down and stored, possibly to save it from more damage. It was discovered during building work at the Mercers’ Chapel in the City in the 1950s.


‘Charles I’ 1638-39, Hubert Le suer

The art: A full-length bronze statue of Charles I, installed in Winchester Cathedral in 1639.

The damage: During a rampage, ‘Atheisticall Rebells’ broke Charles’s sword and the cross on his orb. A musket ball hole is still visible in his left leg.

The motive: Anti-Stuart feeling. The rebels objected to ‘Representation of his Royall Person’ and emblems of Charles’s sacred power.


Fragment of the Equestrian Statue of George III 1770-76, Joseph Wilton

The art: A sculpture of George III (1738-1820) on his trusty steed, which was originally erected at Fort George, Manhattan. Or what’s left of it.

The damage: Poor George was toppled and beheaded by George Washington’s troops following a public reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The motive: Anti-British sentiment. Much of the sculpture was melted down and made into bullets which, resourcefully, were fired at British soldiers.


‘Oliver Cromwell’ Seventeenth century, British school

The art: An undated portrait of Cromwell, the only commoner in our history to serve as head of state.

The damage: The Indian prince Frederick Duleep Singh (1886-1926) hung this portrait upside down in his gallery of royal portraits at Blo Norton Hall, Norfolk.

The motive: A fervent monarchist, Duleep Singh intended the inversion to be a mark of disrespect. But the act was purely symbolic – Cromwell was hanged in 1661 (after being exhumed from Westminster Abbey).


‘Chair’ 1969, Allen Jones

The art: Woman as armchair by British pop artist Allen Jones. You could get away with that sort of thing in the ’60s…

The attack: … But not in the ’80s. The sculpture attracted controversy the moment it was acquired by the Tate in 1981. In 1986 two assailants poured paint stripper over the mannequin’s face, shrivelling its ‘skin’.

The motive: Since the attack took place on International Women’s Day, it’s assumed the action was a feminist protest, but those responsible were never caught. It has since been restored.

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