Voice 1: Small accidents happen all the time. We trip up, we bang into things, we fall over, we slip on wet floors. The result is usually a bit of discomfort and a lot of embarrassment if someone has seen us.
Voice 2: There might even be laughter from your friends as you trip up over the loose laces on your trainers and drop your slice of mango cheesecake on the floor in the coffee shop. But there was no laughter when a very unlucky young man tripped up on August 23rd this year at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei. There were only gasps of horror.
Voice 1: The gallery was hosting ‘The Face of Leonardo, Images of a Genius’ exhibition, a collection of more than fifty paintings from the Italian Renaissance period to the twentieth century. All the exhibits were rare and precious masterpieces.
Voice 2: There were around three hundred visitors in the gallery. Rope barriers had been erected at a distance of eighty centimetres from each painting so that visitors could not get too close, and security guards were in position throughout the gallery. What could possibly go wrong?
Voice 1: A twelve year old boy in shorts, trainers and a blue t-shirt was walking past an oil painting called ‘Flowers’ by the seventeenth century artist Paolo Porpora. The boy had a drink in his right hand.
Voice 2: The young man wasn’t watching what he was doing. He caught his foot on a rope barrier post and tripped. As he fell forward towards the painting, he extended his arms to stop himself falling. But his fist banged against the fragile painting, tearing a hole at the bottom of the canvas.
Voice 1: Other visitors near the painting stopped dead in their tracks, staring open-mouthed in shock at the damaged painting. The gallery was quickly cleared, and an investigation team moved in to find out what exactly had happened.
Voice 2: CCTV footage shows that the incident was a genuine accident. The boy fell and damaged the painting in an attempt to save himself. The exhibition organisers said later that the boy’s family would not have to pay for the costly restoration work that will be needed to repair the painting. Porpora’s ‘Flowers’ was part of a private collection, and like all the other paintings, it was insured against possible damage.
Voice 1: According to an art expert in Taipei, the damaged painting is around three hundred and fifty years old and is valued at more than one and a half million US dollars. Taiwanese art restorers are confident that they can repair the damage before it is shipped back to its owner in Italy.
Voice 2: The incident has thrown up the question of how to protect valuable paintings when they go on exhibition to the general public. The ‘Mona Lisa’, the world’s most famous painting in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is shielded from visitors by a screen of bulletproof glass.
Voice 1: Accidents like the one in Taipei rarely happen, but when they do, they make world headlines. The boy responsible for the damage would have quite a story to tell his friends when he got over the shock of what he’d done. Or perhaps he kept his mouth shut, too ashamed to admit that his clumsiness had damaged one of the world’s most beautiful paintings.