Milan city council has admitted it is unable to clean a 19th-century statue that was recently defaced by climate activists and will now require a complex restoration to return it to its former condition. Experts have blamed the city council for apparently fixing the spray-on pigment on the monument while trying to clean it off; meanwhile, the mayor of Milan has accused the climate activists of covering the statue with permanent paint.
Dominating one end of Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, Ettore Rosa’s 15m-tall bronze sculptural Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (1878-96) depicts Italy’s first king mounted on a horse as he rallies his troops during the Second Italian War of Independence.
Two climate activists affiliated with the group Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) approached the monument on 9 March holding red canisters attached to hoses and sprayed the statue with bright yellow paint. The activists, who have been identified as a 26-year-old male and a 23-year-old female, were arrested by Carabinieri law enforcement officers soon after the protest.
Cleaning specialists from Milan’s city-funded Amsa waste disposal agency arrived on the scene less than an hour after the protest and attempted to clean the monument using high-pressure water jets, according to reports. Agents were unable to immediately remove the paint.
A report sent last week by Milan’s superintendent of archaeology, fine arts and landscapes to Italy’s culture ministry concluded that the city council’s decision to use large quantities of water to remove the paint “was inappropriate, and certainly ineffective”. Local newspaper Il Giorno claims that Amsa’s cleaning efforts “seem to have fixed the paint even more definitively”.
Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala told journalists on Friday that his administration does not employ the specialised staff necessary to clean the statue and will therefore hold a tender to appoint an external restorer. “I cannot believe that [the climate activists] weren’t aware they were using non-removable paint,” Sala told journalists. Sala added that the city council may bring a civil action against the protestors.
A spokesman for the council told The Art Newspaper a “complex” restoration project “with scaffolding” will now be required to remove the paint.
Ultima Generazione has staged numerous similar protests in Milan in recent months, smearing the opera house La Scala’s facade with blue and pink paint in December and covering the base of a famed statue of a protruding middle finger by Maurizio Cattelan with yellow pigment in January. The paint was successfully removed in both cases.
Ultima Generazione has denied intentionally damaging the monument in Piazza del Duomo. “We used exactly the same paint as in other cases, and, as with the other cases, we had no intention of [permanently] damaging the work,” Ultima Generazione told the Italian news site Fanpage.
Meanwhile, Italy’s government last week approved a draft bill that would bring in tougher sanctions for protestors who target heritage. Under the new law, anyone who damages art or monuments could face fines of between €20,000 and €60,000; the law also foresees fines of €10,000 to €40,000 for those who deface heritage sites.