OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!
How can we deter those infernal headhunters? Not those inquisitive souls who select the heads of large organisations, but the lowlifes (should that be lowlives?) who knock off sculptured heads from museums, or knock heads off statues.
On July 30, a visitor to the British Museum stole a 2500-year-old Greek statue reported to be worth up to £25,000 (that's $72,000 in Australia, and $39,000 in the U.S.) The no-good grabbed the 12cm-high marble head, hid it in a pocket, shirt or handbag, and scarpered, shot through or vamoosed undetected.
Here's a good question for a trivia quiz: What common thread links Venus de Milo, Christopher Columbus, the Little Mermaid, Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher? ANSWER: Their statues have been beheaded.
Like the practice of burning people in effigy, statue lopping goes back a long way. Osimo, in Italy, named not after Osama bin Laden, but in honor of San Giuseppe, is known as "the city without heads," because of a display of ancient beheaded statues in the Council Palace.
In England, Oliver Cromwell's men ritually removed and beheaded statues in cathedrals and churches during the Civil Wars (1639-1651).
In 1964, the people of Denmark were horrified to learn that their world-famous bronze statue of The Little Mermaid, sitting on a rock in a park along Copenhagen's harbor, had been decapitated. (Carl Jacobsen, founder of the Carlsberg breweries, had commissioned Edvard Eriksen to create the statue, which was put in place in 1913). The Little Mermaid was given a new head, modeled on the old one.
Then in 1998, vandals once again cut off her head. "It's disgusting. It's a stupid prank, real stupid," said retiree Henrik Bruhn. Federica Vianello of Venice, Italy, said "We came out to see her not knowing what had happened. We're stunned. She is like Copenhagen's Eiffel Tower." Culture Minister Ebbe Lundgaard told TV2 "I'm shocked. We can't guard ourselves against stupidity."
A few years ago, statues of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, in Canberra, were decapitated in the dead of night, presumably by an anonymous republican.
And in March 2001, a marble statue of Christopher Columbus in the lobby of San Jose (California) City Hall suffered a sledgehammer attack. The statue (now restored) is owned by the Knights of Columbus.
Five months later, in Santa Barbara, California, another marble statue of Columbus was beheaded and spray-painted in an apparent protest of the explorer's treatment of indigenous peoples. An upside-down American flag was placed in front of the statue, bearing the words Truth: 509 years of indigenous genocide. [While Columbus is credited with having discovered America, he has been criticised as a symbol of European exploitation of native peoples.]
The latest victim of a headlopper is another Barbara, 76-year-old Baroness Thatcher, Great Britain's first woman Prime Minister. She gained office in May 1979 and remained until resigning in November 1990, the longest serving British Prime Minister for more than a century.
Lady Thatcher sat in secret for one of Britain's leading sculptors, Neil Simmons, after an anonymous donor put up the £50,000 cost of a statue, commissioned by the House of Commons's Works of Art Committee. She was delighted with the result, remarking that it made her look "visionary," but one candid critic described it as "truly frightful."
The larger than life statue (8ft. high, and weighing 1.8 tons) was designed for a vacant plinth in the Members' Lobby of the Commons where it will eventually stand with statues of Churchill, Attlee and Lloyd George. But there's a snag: under the rules, it can't be placed there until five years after Lady Thatcher's death.
The owners of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, who acquired the old London Bridge some years ago, have offered to care for the piece until Britain is ready to show it. A few political party-poopers (described as anti-Thatcher Labor legislators) have said (rather unkindly) that the sculpture of the former Conservative leader should be given to Arizona to keep forever.
The statue was unveiled for the first time in London on February 1, 2002. Five months later, when on display at Guildhall Art Gallery, it was decapitated by a man wielding a cricket bat. The sculpture is insured for £150,000, but the cost of repair is not known.
On July 4, theatre producer Paul Kelleher, 37, from Isleworth, west London, pleaded not guilty to a charge of having caused criminal damage. City of London Magistrates' Court was told how Kelleher entered the gallery carrying a cricket bat.
John Gilbert, prosecuting, said: "When he was beside the statue he took out the cricket bat and took a swipe at it... He took another swing with that heavy pole and knocked the head off. He didn't run, he stayed in order to be arrested, and was taken to a police station and interviewed."
Kelleher admitted having attacked the statue but said he would not plead guilty to criminal damage as he was "not a criminal," adding "I haven't really hurt anybody, it's just a statue, an idol we seem to be worshipping to a greater extent."
Sculptor Neil Simmons, 44, said he was "deeply saddened" by the damage. It had taken him two years to find the right sized piece of marble for the 1.8-ton statue, and eight months and several sittings with Lady Thatcher to complete the work.
Well, what can we do about these misguided mischief-makers? Perhaps the phrase an eye for an eye should be amended to a head for a head, and they, like their victims, should be beheaded!
POSTSCRIPT. - ARMLESS MISTAKE! I made a bad blue (Oz for egregious error) in the above story, for which I apologise. Mara Munroe, of Neenah, Wisconsin, was first to spot it, and wrote in the guestbook: "Venus de Milo is missing her arms, not her head. It's the Winged Victory of Samothrace which is headless. Both in the Louvre, so the link in your mind is obvious."