boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Red dye in a fountain in Rome stirs outrage, and then admiration

Tourists snapped the red waters flowing Friday in Rome's 17th-century Trevi fountain. After the dye dissipated, artists and critics called the gesture by an unidentified person a brilliant act. Tourists snapped the red waters flowing Friday in Rome's 17th-century Trevi fountain. After the dye dissipated, artists and critics called the gesture by an unidentified person a brilliant act. (Gregorio Borgia/associated press)

ROME - One day a vandal, the next an artist. That is the story of the baseball-capped culprit who dumped a bottle of dye into Rome's famed Trevi Fountain on Friday, turning the waters blood red.

No sooner was it determined that the 17th-century Baroque fountain had not been damaged than intellectuals and art critics began reevaluating the gesture as something approaching genius.

"Once the indignation had died down, we rediscovered the Fountain of Trevi thanks to that liquid," said Roberto D'Agostino, a blogger who is the Italian Matt Drudge. "It's a resurrection of Andy Warhol, the act of highlighting an object of mass consumption."

Others made the connection between the red of the fountain and the red carpet at the Rome Film Fest, which had just begun.

It's a lackluster festival, said media critic Gianluca Nicoletti, having "no depth, no color. The real splash was the one made at a fountain."

Describing the gesture as a "dramatic representation of the decline of the country," Nicoletti said that photos of the red-water fountain had made a global sensation.

"It was a marvelous event" that put Rome in the spotlight - and "at practically zero cost."

Fliers found at the Trevi Fountain on Friday afternoon, signed by an unknown group that identified itself as "Ftm Futurist Action 2007," claimed responsibility for the deed. Futurism was an early 20th-century art movement that advocated a violent break with the past.

Initial reactions were of outrage and concern for the monument's well-being. Like many of Italy's precious monuments, the Trevi is exposed to acts of violence. Over the years vandals have attacked dozens of statues throughout the country, including Michelangelo's Pieta in the Vatican, and scrawled graffiti on countless walls. The Mafia even managed to attack the Uffizi gallery in 1993, killing five.

Anita Ekberg, who took a nighttime swim in the Trevi for Fellini's 1960 classic "La Dolce Vita," fumed in newspapers that the act had been "an offense to Rome's culture."

But that was before intellectuals began to see gravitas in the act.

Photographs taken by tourists as well as a videotape shot Friday afternoon captured a man, wearing a baseball cap pulled low, flinging the red dye into the fountain from a plastic container, then hurrying into the crowd. The dye flushed out over the next day.

Media reports have identified the man as Graziano Cecchini, a 54-year-old unemployed painter. Asked whether he was the man shown in the photographs, Cecchini quipped slyly: "Who knows?" during a telephone interview yesterday.

"If it had been me, wink wink, I'd say that this had been a media-savvy operation in the face of a very gray society," said Cecchini.

He has taken refuge with Oliviero Toscani, a controversial photographer who often works on the Benetton clothing brand.

"We see the same thing," Cecchini said of the red fountain, citing a comment by Toscani published yesterday: "Rome that's still menstruating, Rome that . . . is still fertile."

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES