MOSCOW — One of Russia’s most famous paintings, which depicts the czar Ivan the Terrible cradling his dying son, has been badly damaged in a Moscow gallery after a man drank vodka and attacked it with a metal pole, the police said.
The 1885 canvas, “Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581,” by the Russian realist Ilya Repin, portrays a grief-stricken Ivan holding his son after dealing him a mortal blow, an event whose veracity some Russian nationalists dispute.
The Tretyakov Gallery in central Moscow said a man had attacked the canvas just before closing time on Friday. He managed to get past a group of gallery employees, the gallery said, picked up one of the metal security poles used to keep the public back from the painting, and struck its protective glass covering several times.
The thick glass “was smashed,” the gallery said in a statement. “Serious damage was done to the painting. The canvas was pierced in three places.”
The frame was also badly damaged, the gallery said, adding that “by a happy coincidence” the most precious elements of the painting — the depiction of the faces and hands of the czar and his son — were not damaged.
The police arrested a 37-year-old suspect on charges of damaging a cultural artifact. The Russian news agency Tass said the man, from the city of Voronezh, about 300 miles from Moscow, had attacked the painting because he said he thought it was historically inaccurate.
The suspect had drunk about 3.5 ounces of vodka in the gallery cafe shortly before he damaged the painting, according to news reports.
In a video released by the Interior Ministry, the man, whose name has not been released, is shown admitting to the attack and saying that he recognized the seriousness of his crime.
“I came to look at the painting,” he told the police. “I wanted to leave, but then dropped into the buffet and drank 100 grams of vodka. I don’t drink vodka, and became overwhelmed by something.”
Russian nationalists who object to the painting and dispute its veracity have demanded that the gallery remove it from display, something the Tretyakov has refused to do.
Russia has tried to improve public opinion of the czar, including through a wildly popular exhibition in 2015 near the Kremlin whose theme loosely translated as Ivan the Terrible should really be considered Ivan the Not So Bad. And last year, President Vladimir V. Putin was said to have defended Ivan.
ItFriday was not the first time the canvas had been attacked. In 1913, Abram Balashov slashed it with a knife three times, according to Tass. The painting’s creator restored it himself.