The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vatican City
An empty corridor inside Vatican Museums is seen through bars as staff prepare for reopening on June 1 with new social distancing and hygiene rules after months of closure due to a spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in this still image taken from an undated video in Vatican City. Reuters

A man toppled two ancient Roman busts in the Vatican Museums on Wednesday, causing moderate damage before being stopped by staff and arrested, a museums source said.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the man was in his 50s and had "behaved strangely."

He knocked two busts off their pedestals in the museums' Chiaramonti hall, which houses more than 1,000 pieces and is one of the most important collections of Roman portrait busts.

Museum staff restrained the man and Vatican police arrived a few minutes later to arrest him.

The two busts were damaged but not severely, the source said, adding that they already had been taken to the restoration lab in the museums for repair.

Pictures taken by visitors and posted on social media showed the two broken busts lying on the marble floor.

After having to shut down or reduce opening hours during years of COVID restrictions, the museums are now welcoming back tourists en masse. The museums received some six million visitors a year before the pandemic.

The most notorious assault on artwork in the Vatican was in 1972 when a Hungarian man jumped over a side altar in St. Peter's Basilica and attacked Michelangelo's Pieta with a sledgehammer. He knocked off the Madonna's left arm and chipped her nose and veil.

That Renaissance masterpiece is now behind bulletproof glass.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease, at the Vatican
People visit the Vatican Museums on the day of its reopening after weeks of closure, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease, at the Vatican, May 3, 2021. Reuters