Uffizi chief presses for harsh penalties for defacing of Vasari Corridor columns; police ID suspects

MILAN (AP) — The director of Florence’s Uffizi Galleries called on Wednesday for stiff penalties against vandals who spray-painted graffiti on exterior columns of the Vasari Corridor connecting the famed museum to the Boboli Gardens.

Hours later, Italy's Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said the presumed vandals have been identified by Carabinieri police. He did not identify the suspects.

The Italian news agency ANSA said the Carabinieri had found two German tourists, vacationing in Florence, who are suspected of having scrawled the name of a German soccer club on the columns.

The investigation was continuing, and no one was reported detained.

“Actions like these must not remain unpunished,'' the minister said in a statement released Wednesday evening by his office. “Now, let justice run its course.”

Earlier in the day, Sangiuliano, said that vandals “need to understand that even a small scratch will be prosecuted from now on.”

Under Italian law, someone convicted of “aggravated damage,” which could apply to a vandalism case, risks a prison term as high as three years.

Political and cultural leaders condemned the graffiti, the latest in a summer of high-profile acts of vandalism targeting Italian monuments, including the Colosseum in Rome and Milan's landmark Vittorio Emmanuele II Galleria.

Italian police examined video to identify those responsible for the Vasari Corridor graffiti, which appeared overnight on the Arno River-facing side of the nearly kilometer-long (half-mile-long) corridor.

“Clearly this is not a drunken whim, but a premeditated act,’’ Uffizi director Eike Schmidt said in a statement. He called for harsh sanctions against those responsible, saying that in the United States such cases could bring a prison term of five years.

“Enough with symbolic punishments and imaginative extenuating circumstances. We need the hard fist of the law,’’ Schmidt said.

Earlier this summer, a video of a tourist carving his and his girlfriend’s initials into the Colosseum outraged Italians, and vandals earlier this month climbed atop the Vittorio Emmanuele II Gallery in Milan and spraypainted an arch facing the Duomo cathedral.

Florence Mayor Dario Nardella promised a full investigation to identify those responsible for the “shameful act of vandalism” at the Vasari Corridor.

The aerial walkway designed by Giorgio Vasari was commissioned by Duke Cosimo de Medici in 1565 to allow grand dukes to move safely from Pitti Palace to the seat of government in Palazzo Vecchio.