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Over the centuries art works have been smashed, slashed, defaced, even bombed.

Now the Tate has unveiled plans for the first exhibition to explore physical attacks on art in Britain from the 16th century to the present day.

Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm opens at Tate Britain on 2 October.

The centrepiece of the show is a damaged sculpture of Christ that lay hidden for hundreds of years beneath a floor of a London chapel.

The Statue of the Dead Christ (c. 1500-1520) is missing its crown of thorns, arms and lower legs – thought to be the result of a brutal attack by religious reformers in the 16th century.

The statue was discovered beneath the chapel floor of the Mercers’ Hall in central London in 1954. Experts think it may have been buried to protect it from further damage.

Last October, a Mark Rothko mural was defaced with a marker pen at the Tate Modern gallery. A week ago, Constable’s The Hay Wain was targeted by a protester in the National Gallery.

The show explores why art has been attacked for religious, political or aesthetic motives.

Exhibits include fragments of a statue of William III and Nelson’s Pillar destroyed in Dublin during anti-British attacks in 1928 and 1966 respectively.

A portrait of Oliver Cromwell hung upside down by the staunch monarchist Prince Frederick Duleep Singh (1868-1926) will also feature.

Attacks by suffragettes are represented by two paintings, Edward Burne-Jones’s Sibylla Delphica, attacked in Manchester Art Gallery in 1913, and John Singer Sargent’s Henry James, slashed at the Royal Academy in 1914.

The curators stress that the exhibition is not about acts of random vandalism but “iconoclasm” – acts of destruction inspired by an ideology.

The show will also consider how artists themselves have used destruction as a creative force. A piano destroyed by an axe by Ralph Montanez Ortiz in 1966 will go on display for the first time accompanied by an audio recording of the event.

Chris Sabian is a portrait artist with http://www.kutefineart.com and owner of http://www.paragonprints.co.uk

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