Two German tourists have been arrested after allegedly defacing the Vasari Corridor at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, marking the end of a blitz police investigation that could lead to the perpetrators being imprisoned and receiving heavy fines.
On Tuesday night, the vandals are alleged to have sprayed a series of characters on seven outdoor columns lining a portico under the corridor, a 1km elevated passageway connecting the Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti that was built by Cosimo I de’ Medici and now forms part of the museum. The letters and numbers formed the motif “DKS1860”, which is thought to refer to the third-division football team 1860 Munich.
Carabinieri analysed CCTV footage on Wednesday morning showing three figures approaching the corridor and one clambering on a parapet, supposedly to spray the columns, before raiding an apartment in Piazza della Signoria rented by 11 German tourists at 5.20pm on Wednesday afternoon. Two of the guests aged 20 and 21 were identified as the vandals.
The tourists were taken to a local carabinieri headquarters to have their fingerprints taken. These will be compared with those found on two black paint spray cans that officers confiscated from the apartment.
Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi, issued a statement on Wednesday calling for a firm response from the government. “Enough with token punishments and fanciful extenuating circumstances! We need the hard fist of the law!" he said.
In a further statement on Thursday morning, Schmidt said the museum will demand that the alleged vandals reimburse the museum for the cleanup operation, which will last “a few days” and will cost around €10,000. The museum will also press charges against them under the Urban Code for “damaging a trademark” that has an estimated market value of €100,000, the director added.
The portico that runs under the gallery will be surveilled by armed security services 24 hours a day from September, Schmidt said.
The public prosecutor’s office will also file charges against the alleged vandals for aggravated criminal damage, which foresees imprisonment of between 6 months and 3 years, the ANSA news agency reports.
Culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano thanked the Carabinieri for promptly identifying the alleged perpetrators. “Acts like this must not go unpunished,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. “Now let justice take its course."
The minister had vowed that lawmakers would exercise “zero tolerance” and be "unyielding in enforcing the laws”.
Last month, Italy’s Senate approved a draft law that will introduce fines of between €10,000 and €60,000 for those who damage cultural heritage.
The law is expected to be definitively passed in the Chamber of Deputies after the summer break. Local prefects rather than courts will be made responsible for issuing financial penalties, Sangiuliano said, in a move that is expected to allow for swifter action.
The Vasari Corridor housed the museum’s collection of self-portraits from 1973 to 2016, when the passageway was closed for security reasons. It is expected to be reopened as part of the museum by the end of this year.