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Photograph on Canvas · Materials · Mat Collishaw

The Eclipse of Venus

In 1914, the suffragette Mary Richardson smashed the plate-glass protecting Velasquez’ Rokeby Venus in the National gallery and slashed the canvas. The painting was then removed from the gallery and repaired by restorers in the basement. It was stitched up and the scar disguised, leaving it bearing no sign of the attack.

Richardson professed that the Rokeby Venus portrayed a man’s eroticised image of woman, and that the painting should no longer be on public display until the relationship between the sexes was equal.

Ironically, her protest resulted in the desecration of the female body depicted in the painting. Collishaw found it particularly counterintuitive to violate the image of a woman’s body to protest against the treatment of females.

As well as meticulously hiding the scar in the painting, evidence of this incident ever having occurred has been also been largely concealed. Eighty-five years later, Collishaw exhibited a copy of this iconic painting, displayed behind plate-glass in a gallery, before attacking the work in the same manner. As with the original, it was withdrawn from view.