Outrage over a painting on display as part of an exhibition in Modena, Italy, that seems to depict Jesus receiving oral sex erupted into violence last week as a vandal slashed the canvas and dealt the artist a blow to the neck.

The work by artist Andrea Saltini was included in a show installed near a deconsecrated church. Worshippers deemed the display “blasphemous,” and a petition calling for the early closure of the show has garnered more than 30,000 signatories. The hostilities came to a head on Thursday when a masked individual visited the exhibition—located in the Museo Diocesano, the former Church of Sant’Ignazio in Carpi—and cut the painting before spraying it with black paint.  

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Saltini, who was present at the exhibition, attempted to stop the vandalism and, amid the struggle, was struck on the neck with the blade. Police were called to the scene, but the vandal had already fled, the Italian newspaper Il Resto del Carlino reported.

Authorities found the discarded weapon and face mask at the museum, as well as a black wig that may have been worn by the vandal in a doorway near the display. Saltini, who was taken to the hospital for treatment, escaped serious harm and was discharged several hours later, with four stitches. 

“[Saltini] asks the entire community of Carpi to reflect on the limits of dissent, the right to criticism, the right to freedom of thought,” Giuseppe Chierici, the artist’s lawyer, said in a statement, as quoted by the Art Newspaper. “Saltini hopes an open and free discussion respecting everyone’s sensitivities and opinions can begin as soon as possible.”

The vandalized painting, titled INRI (2024), is one of about 20 works on canvas created by Saltini currently on display in the show “Gratia Plena.” Each piece in the series presents a twist on a famous religious scene. Paraclito (2024), done in the style of the Pietà, features an astronaut in place of the Virgin Mary.

INRI depicts a lifeless, nude Jesus splayed on his back as Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced his side with a lance during the crucifixion, leans over his crotch. Pro Vita & Famiglia, an anti-abortion organization, has since released a statement condemning the “unjustifiable attack” on Saltini. 

Monsignor Erio Castellucci, archbishop of Modena-Nonantola and bishop of Carpi, also spoke about the vandalism, telling Il Resto del Carlino that “artists have always proposed paths and suggestions of a non-canonical nature.” Anyone is free to be offended by the display, he said, though “the important thing is that dissent becomes an opportunity for dialogue and debate and not for accusation and violence.”