Damaged Christ sculpture fronts violence on art exhibition

LONDON Fri Jul 5, 2013 12:38pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - A damaged sculpture of Christ that lay hidden for hundreds of years beneath the floor of a London chapel will be the centerpiece of an exhibition at the Tate Britain this year that explores physical attacks on art works.

"The Statue of the Dead Christ" is missing its crown of thorns, arms and lower legs with the damage thought to be the result of an attack in the 16th century when radical Protestants destroyed traditional Catholic artwork.

The statue was discovered beneath the chapel floor of the Mercers' Hall in central London in 1954 where experts think it may have been buried to protect it from further damage.

Penelope Curtis, curator of "Art under Attack: Histories of Iconoclasm", said this statue was being shown publicly for the first time at the exhibition that examines 500 years of British art damaged for religious, political or aesthetic reasons.

"This powerful depiction exemplifies the immense power and hold over people that images could, and still can, possess," the Tate said in a statement ahead of a press tour of the exhibition that opens on October 2.

"It was images such as this that reformers found dangerous and wished to eradicate."

Curtis said the exhibition was extremely topical given a recent spate of attacks on art in Britain.

Last week Constable's "The Hay Wain" at the National Gallery was attacked by a protestor who was charged with criminal damage after a photograph was glued to the painting.

Last October, a Mark Rothko mural was defaced with a marker pen at the Tate Modern gallery.

But Curtis said the idea for the exhibition came before these attacks and had taken three years of work.

The exhibition includes fragments of smashed stained glass windows, portraits slashed by suffragettes in the 19th century, and Carl Andre's minimalist sculpture "Equivalent VIII" that was splashed with a bucket of blue dye by an angry viewer.

A portrait of Oliver Cromwell hung upside down by staunch monarchist Prince Frederick Victor Duleep Singh will feature along with remnants of a statue of William III and Nelson's Pillar, attacked in Dublin during anti-British attacks.

(Reporting by Amritha John, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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