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Climate Activists Face Fines for Defacing Raphael’s ‘Sistine Madonna’ in Dresden Gallery

In a bold act of climate protest, two activists from the German environmental group Letzte Generation (Last Generation) glued their hands to the frame of Raphael’s iconic ‘Sistine Madonna’ at the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden, resulting in significant damage to the historic artwork. The Dresden prosecutor’s office has now requested fines for the activists, holding them responsible for “community damage to property.”

The Incident and Its Consequences

On August 23, 2022, a 22-year-old and a 29-year-old activist entered the prestigious gallery, seeking to draw attention to the urgent issue of climate change. They attached one hand each to the frame of Raphael’s revered 16th-century masterpiece, the ‘Sistine Madonna.’ Although the painting itself remained unharmed, the demonstration left traces of superglue on the frame, causing damage to its protective finish. The Dresden State Art Collections (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, or SKD) estimated the property damages to be around 2,300 euros.

Prosecutors’ Decision and Civil Proceedings

The Dresden prosecutor’s office has deemed the act as “damage to property that is harmful to the community” and has decided to hold the activists accountable for their actions. Each activist has been requested to pay a fine of 1,500 euros for the community damage caused by the protest.

In addition to the fines, the pair has been banned from all 15 institutions under the SKD, restricting their access to the city’s art treasures. The authorities aim to send a clear message that such actions, although driven by noble causes, cannot come at the expense of historical artworks and public property.

Letzte Generation activists Jakob Beyer and Maike Grunst glued to the frame of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in August of 2023. Courtesy: Letzte Generation

Online Activism and Unresolved Charges

During the incident, a 23-year-old activist filmed the protest and posted it on social media. However, the case against this individual was later dropped, possibly due to a lack of direct involvement in the demonstration itself.

Unyielding Activism by Last Generation

Despite the threat of fines and legal repercussions, Last Generation appears steadfast in their commitment to address climate change through daring acts of protest. In the same year, other members of the group glued themselves to a Peter Paul Rubens painting at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, causing damage worth 11,000 euros.

The group’s website reveals their primary objective of combating the “fossil fuel madness.” Driven by a sense of urgency to protect the environment and our planet’s future, the activists seek to raise awareness and compel action on a global scale.

The Impact and Message

While the activists’ actions have sparked debates on the boundaries of protest and the protection of cultural heritage, their underlying message about climate change cannot be ignored. As public figures and organisations worldwide address the urgency of the climate crisis, the incident at the Old Masters Picture Gallery serves as a reminder that creative forms of protest can capture attention, but must be conducted with respect for the integrity of historical artworks and the public space.

Conclusion: A Controversial Act With Environmental Intentions

The climate activists’ daring protest inside the walls of Dresden’s esteemed art gallery undoubtedly carries profound implications for both environmental activism and the preservation of cultural heritage. As society grapples with urgent environmental challenges, it is crucial for activists and authorities alike to find common ground in addressing climate change without compromising the world’s artistic and historical treasures. The balance between activism and responsibility remains a complex and pressing issue in the fight for a sustainable future.

Climate Activists Face Fines for Defacing Raphael’s ‘Sistine Madonna’ in Dresden Gallery

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