Russia urges harshest punishment for attack on Ivan the Terrible painting


Moscow (AFP)

Russia on Monday called for the harshest possible punishment after a visitor to Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery caused serious damage by attacking a famous 19th-century painting of Ivan the Terrible.

On Friday, Russian police arrested a 37-year-old man who used a metal pole to break the glass covering Ilya Repin's painting of the 16th-century tsar killing his son, damaging the work in three places.

Russia's deputy culture minister Vladimir Aristarkhov said at a news conference on Monday at the Tretyakov Gallery that his ministry expects the man to receive "the most severe punishment possible."

Under the current law, the man faces up to three years in jail.

"Three years is nothing compared to the value of this painting," Aristarkhov added.

"We would like to initiate a discussion on toughening up the punishment for the vandalism of art," Tretyakov Gallery director Zelfira Tregulova said in the Repin Room of the gallery where the crime took place.

According to state media, the man vandalised the painting for "historical reasons" and later told police he acted under the influence of alcohol after drinking a glass of vodka.

Tregulova raised her fear that Russians are increasingly "not differentiating artistic work from historical facts."

"The mixing of the two can mean that any art work can be a victim (of an attack)," she warned.

She called the act a "tragedy" and said it exposed "unprecedented aggression" in Russian society.

The gallery showed photographs of the damage to the painting, which has been removed from the Repin Room for the first time since it was evacuated from Moscow during World War II.

It is not the first time the painting has suffered such an attack.

In 1913, a man stabbed the work with a knife, ripping the canvas in three places. The artist Repin was then still alive and participated in the restoration of his painting.

Since 1913, the painting has been protected by glass.

Russian state officials have lobbied for the rehabilitation of Ivan the Terrible, who led Russia from 1547 to 1583 and earned the moniker "Terrible" due to his brutal policies, which included the creation of a secret police that spread mass terror and executed thousands of people.

In October 2016, Russia inaugurated a controversial monument to the 16th century tyrant, the first of its kind, in the city of Oryol some 335 kilometres south of Moscow.