Several Just Stop Oil activists were arrested yesterday for using hammers to break the glass protecting the 17th century painting The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez, held at the National Gallery in London. The incident joins a long list of recent attacks that have transpired across European art institutions, where protesters — many of them students — are going to extreme measures to raise awareness to the climate emergency.
Nicknamed The Rokeby Venus, the painting depicts Venus, the goddess of love, reclined against bed sheets looking into a framed mirror held up by her son Cupid. In antiquity, Venus symbolically represented absolute female beauty, one to which Velázquez purposefully blurs in the reflection, so that she isn’t an identifiable person and only pieced together in the viewer’s imagination. Curators at the National Gallery have equated the painting as not only the most famous nude in their collection, but in all of Britain.
“Women did not get the vote by voting,” said a female protestor via X, after hammering the glass protecting the work. “It is time for deeds and not words. It is time to just stop oil.” Soon afterward, the second activist next to her commented: “Politics is failing us. Politics failed woman in 1914. If millions will die due to new oil and gas licensing, if we love art, if we love our families, we must just stop oil.”
Conservators have removed the painting to assess any damages. Around the same time as the attack, a number of Just Stop Oil activists gathered in Whitehall to march towards the Houses of Parliament to protest the government’s plan to extract oil in the North Sea, which federal authorities state would lessen their petrol dependency on “hostile foreign regimes.” London’s Metropolitan police arrested over 40 protestors on the day.
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