Suspected Vandalism at London’s National Gallery Raises Security Concerns

The museum privatized security services last year, amid a staff crisis.

London's National Gallery. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
London's National Gallery. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Two 16th century masterpieces on display at the National Gallery in London have been found to have some mysterious scratches.

The incident is raising concerns about the effect that the privatization of security services implemented at the museum last year might have in regards to vandalism.

The curatorial staff, who regularly check the artworks before the museum’s opening, noticed visible scratches at the bottom of Saints Sebastian, Roch and Demetrius, painted in the 1520s by Ortolano; as well as on Canon Ludovico di Terzi, an early 1560s portrait by Giovanni Battista Moroni.

One of the damaged paintings at the London National Gallery. Ortolano, Saints Sebastian, Roch and Demetrius, about 1520 courtesy of the London National Gallery.

One of the damaged paintings at the London National Gallery: Ortolano, Saints Sebastian, Roch and Demetrius (circa 1520). Courtesy of the London National Gallery.

While the National Gallery dismissed these scratches as minor, it seems they could have been caused by fingernails or rings.

With more than six million visitors yearly, the National Gallery must take special care of the masses of people carelessly passing by old, fragile works. But it can’t do so without proper care from gallery assistants.

One of the damaged paintings at the London National Gallery. Giovanni Battista Moroni, Canon Ludovico di Terzi, about 1559-60 courtesy of the London National Gallery.

One of the damaged paintings at the London National Gallery. Giovanni Battista Moroni, Canon Ludovico di Terzi (circa 1559-60). Courtesy of the London National Gallery.

The National Gallery experienced a tumultuous period in the past year, following funding cuts, a staffing crisis triggered by the decision to privatize visitors’ services, and a series strikes in response.

The museum hired the private security company Securitas to look after the collection and the visitors, resulting not only in less man power, but also in an allegedly less efficient, less trained group of security personnel to oversee some of the world’s most important and most delicate artworks, according to the Guardian.

“It is not uncommon for privatised Securitas staff at the National Gallery to tell visitors that they can find the Mona Lisa in the Sainsbury wing of the gallery! It’s no surprise that paintings are now getting damaged,” a staff member told the Guardian.


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