This week one of the most recognizable ancient artifacts in the world — King Tut's burial mask — was irreversibly damaged by museum employees. The relic features an iconic gold and blue braided beard, a symbol of Tutankhamun's divinity as Pharaoh. But recently, while cleaning the piece at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, curators accidentally knocked off the beard. Then they what did what anyone might do after damaging a priceless object: They panicked and made it worse.
A curator used epoxy glue to reattach the beard. Epoxy is a heavy-duty substance — it's super strong, super thick, and dries very fast. If you're attaching a fin to a surfboard, for instance, or putting together a heat shield for a spaceship, it's the right material. If you're trying to conceal a delicate repair to an ancient artifact, it is not. Now, King Tut's burial mask has a thick, very visible line of yellow glue in between the beard and the face. A news outlet based in Qatar called al-Alraby tweeted a photo of the botched repair:
Here's what it looked like before:
It gets worse: While using the epoxy to reattach the beard, the curator dripped some of it on the face of the mask. Again, panic. The curator used a spatula to wedge the epoxy glob off of the face, scratching it in the process.
Museums typically have a conservation lab where works of art go for restoration. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has one. Alas, by the time the conservators found out what had happened, the glue had dried.
Of course, this isn't the first priceless cultural artifact to meet its fate at the hands of fools. Here are a few more works of art that were destroyed by straight-up jackassery:
1) "Ecce Homo" by Elias Garcia Martinez
No story about art restoration gone horribly, horribly wrong is complete without a mention of Elías Martínez's "Ecce Homo" fresco. The painting had been on display in the la Misericordia di Borja church in Spain. In 2012, an impassioned fan and amateur painted named Cecilia Giménez decided to take a crack at restoration. It didn't go well. According to The Guardian, Giménez said many people, including the priest, saw her painting it and no one said anything. She has reportedly fallen ill from all the criticism.
2) Almost all of Carel Fabritius' work that isn't "The Goldfinch"
You might not know the name Carel Fabritius, but you've probably heard of "The Goldfinch," 2013's Pulitzer-prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt. The book focuses on Fabritius' painting by the same name. The book also explains why Fabritius isn't exactly a household name: He died in an explosion at 32. The "Delft Thunderclap," as it's known, killed about 1200 people in the Netherlands in 1654. At the time, the government was storing 80,000 pounds of gunpowder in the basement of a convent near the central market of the city. An inspector went to check on it. With a lantern. Almost the entire city, including Fabritius' studio (where most of his artwork was stored), was destroyed as a result.
Ai Weiwei's "Colored Vases" at the Perez Art Museum Miami in 2014. (Via Getty Images)
3) "Colored Vases" by Ai Weiwei
In 2014, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei had a show at the Perez Art Museum Miami in Florida. A local artist, disgruntled by the lack of local talent on display, grabbed one of the vases in the "According to What?" exhibit and smashed it on the ground. The paint was new, but the vases weren't: They date back to the Neolithic era, roughly 5,000 - 3,000 BCE. The individual vase was valued at approximately $1 million. According to an interview in the Miami New Times, perpetrator Maximo Caminero had no idea the vase was valuable: "If you saw the vases on display and the way they were painted there was no way one would think the artist had painted over an ancient artifact… Instead I thought it was a common clay pot like you would find at Home Depot, frankly."
4) 17th-century Qing Dynasty vases
In 2006, a British man tripped over his shoelace and fell down a flight of stairs at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. In the process, he knocked over and shattered three Chinese vases dating back to the 1600s that were perched on a window recess.
But this story has a happy ending: Conservators and restoration experts painstakingly put all three vases back together, piece by piece, and they were back on display in late 2007 (in a new, slightly safer area.) The Fitzwilliam Museum put together a super cool interactive site where you can see exactly how they did it and try your hand at virtual art restoration.
"Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat" by Claude Monet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
5) "Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat" by Claude Monet
One of the best things about art is the variety of emotions it can provoke. Not all of those emotions are necessarily positive. In 2012, a man named Andrew Shannon briefly contemplated this 1874 Impressionist painting before punching a hole in it.
He later said it was an attempt to "get back at the State."
An art auction in 1997 featuring Picasso's "Le Rêve." (Via Getty Images)
6) "Le Rêve" by Pablo Picasso
Steve Wynn is both a casino magnate and an art lover. In 2001, he acquired Picasso's "Le Rêve" for $60 million. In 2006, he was prepared to sell it for $139 million, which would have made it the most expensive piece of art of all time. While expounding on the intricacies of the painting for a group of friends shortly before the sale, he accidentally put his elbow through it. Author Nora Ephron, who was part of the group viewing it at the time, later said Wynn's retinitis pigmentosa (a degenerative eye disease) combined with his proclivity for gesticulating wildly were to blame.
7) A plaster cast of the "Barberini Faun"
The original "Barberini Faun" — also known as the "Drunken Satyr" — is a marble sculpture that dates back to 220 BCE. In the 1800s, a sculptor made a plaster cast of it, which was on display at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan, Italy when it became the victim of what some called a "selfie attack."
A visiting student tried to climb into the statue's lap to take a better photo, and its left leg promptly snapped off at the thigh.
When it comes to art, the lesson taught in kindergarten remains of vital importance. Look, but don't touch.