Laszlo Toth in 1972
1 July 1938|
11 September 2012 (aged 74)|
Strathfield, New South Wales, Australia
|Known for||Vandalising the Michelangelo's Pietà statue|
Laszlo Toth (Hungarian: Tóth László; 1 July 1938 – 11 September 2012) was a Hungarian-born Australian geologist. He achieved worldwide notoriety when he vandalised Michelangelo's Pietà statue on 21 May 1972. Toth was not charged with any criminal offence after the incident. He was hospitalized in Italy for two years. On his release, he was immediately deported to Australia.
Toth was born in Pilisvörösvár, Hungary, to a Roman Catholic family. After graduating in geology, in 1965 he moved to Australia. As his English was poor and his geology diploma was not recognized, Toth initially worked at a soap factory. In June 1971 he moved to Rome, Italy, knowing no Italian, and aiming to become recognized as Christ. He sent letters to Pope Paul VI and unsuccessfully attempted to meet him.
Vandalism of Pietà
On 21 May 1972, at 33 years of age (Jesus's traditional age at death), during the Feast of Pentecost, Toth, wielding a geologist's hammer and shouting, "I am Jesus Christ — risen from the dead", attacked Michelangelo's Pietà statue in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. With fifteen blows he removed Mary's arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids. Toth was subdued by bystanders, including American sculptor Bob Cassilly, who hit Toth several times before pulling him away from the Pietà. In view of his apparent insanity Toth was never charged with the crime. On 29 January 1973, he was committed to an Italian psychiatric hospital. He was released on 9 February 1975, and was immediately deported to Australia, where he had studied prior to the attack; Australian authorities did not detain him.
Literature and popular culture
- Toth is the eponymous inspiration for books of letters by Don Novello.
- Comic book artist Steve Ditko used Toth's actions as the central metaphor in his 1992 examination of issues concerning creation and destruction, Lazlo's Hammer (corrected to "Laszlo's Hammer" in subsequent reprints and revisions).
- Oz character Guillaume Tarrant is in part inspired by Toth.
- Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig published two Christmas cartoons in the Nation Review in 1975 under the nom-de-plume Laszlo Toth.
- Gamboni, Dario (1997). The destruction of art: iconoclasm and vandalism since the French Revolution. Reaktion Books. pp. 202–203. ISBN 978-0-948462-94-8.
- A martellate un pazzo in S. Pietro sfregia la «Pietà» di Michelangelo, La Stampa, 22 maggio 1972, p. 1.
- "Notes and Queries: Whatever happened to Laszlo Toth, the man who smashed Michelangelo's Pieta in 1972?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2006.
- "Chapel of the Pieta by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1499". saintpetersbasilica.org. 23 September 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2009.
- Schlafly, Tom (29 September 2011). "Remembering Bob Cassilly". St. Louis Public Radio. Archived from the original on 6 November 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
- "The Laszlo Letters (Don Novello interviewed by Bob Garfield)". On the Media. WNYC Radio. 2003. Retrieved 8 June 2006.
- Lazlo's Hammer. Ditko-fever.com. Retrieved on 17 April 2014.