Italian environmental protesters glued their hands to the base of an ancient statue in a Vatican museum on Thursday, in an effort to pressure Rome against reopening old coal mines and launching plans to drill for natural gas. The protest was the latest effort by European environmental activists in recent months that targeted famous artwork.
The Laocoon statue, believed to have been carved in ancient Greece around 40 to 30 B.C., depicts an ill-fated Trojan priest, whose warnings to his countrymen against accepting a horse gifted by the Greeks went unheeded. The activists said their warnings of impending environmental catastrophe were similarly unheard.
The protesters said the statue was unharmed. They were arrested by Vatican security and taken to an Italian police station, according to the Associated Press.
“Today, thousands of activists are sounding the alarm about the climate, but they too are ignored and repressed,” Last Generation, the Italian environmental group responsible for the act, said in a tweet.
“There will be no open museums, no art, no beauty in a world plagued by climate and ecological emergencies,” the group said in a statement that was partially attributed to a 26-year-old art history graduate who glued her hand to the sculpture. She was identified only as Laura.
Many similar recent protests have also involved paintings and sculptures in Europe. In July, activists from the same group glued themselves to a glass frame protecting Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ painting in Florence before security guards ripped their hands free. A video of the incident garnered Last Generation nearly 35,000 views on Instagram, making it one of their more popular posts.
Earlier that month, activists covered John Constable’s painting “The Hay Wain” at London’s National Gallery with a reimagined, apocalyptic vision of the English countryside. The activists, who also glued themselves to the frame, called for an end to new oil and gas licenses and urged art institutions to join them in the resistance.
Also in July, climate protesters glued themselves to the frame of a 500-year-old painting of the Last Supper at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. They spray-painted “No new oil” on the wall underneath the artwork.
None of the paintings was permanently disfigured, the AP reported.
“Targeting famous artworks and museums which are so well-known and which attract a diverse range of people from across the spectrum has been a highly effective way of drawing attention,” said Priya Kurian, an expert on environmental politics at New Zealand’s University of Waikato.
“The point is that these activists are not damaging art. Instead, they are drawing attention to the need to protect our treasures, the ultimate treasure of a healthy planet,” she said.
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Climate protesters also interrupted the Tour de France bicycle race and disrupted the British Grand Prix car race last month.
In the United States, climate change activism is also gaining popularity, with nearly one-quarter of U.S. adults making efforts to support climate change action in the past year, according to a May 2021 Pew Research Center study.
Scientists are also being drawn to more extreme action. In April, a climate change and soil scientist chained herself to the White House fence to protest government inaction.
In December, Bruce Glavovic, an environmental professor at New Zealand’s Massey University, urged his colleagues in an academic journal op-ed to issue a moratorium on research to protest the lack of action on climate change.
“If evidence is being ignored, we need to stand up and call for action,” he said in an interview. “If we are going to destroy the world around us, we are doing something even worse than destroying artwork that is being produced for the public good.”


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