Eco-protesters fined over painting protest say da Vinci would ‘agree’ with them

Environmental protesters fined for gluing themselves to the frame of a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper have said they believed the artist would have supported their actions.

Five Just Stop Oil (JSO) activists were ordered to pay £486 each for criminal damage at City of London Magistrates’ Court, over a demonstration at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, central London, on July 5 2022.

District Judge William Nelson told the court that Jessica Agar, 22, Simon Bramwell, 50, Caspar Hughes, 51, Lucy Porter, 47 and Tristan Strange, 40, caused £180 of damage, while leading the venue to close for the day.

The painting, which was unharmed, depicts the scene when Jesus announced that one of his 12 apostles would betray him while dining with them before he was crucified.

All five defendants glued their hands to the painting’s border, while Hughes previously admitted spraying “No New Oil” on a wall beneath the artwork.

On Wednesday, following a two-day trial, District Judge Nelson sentenced them all equally on the basis that each had been “accessories” to Hughes’ additional act through their joint planning of the protest.

He told the central London court that the “primary cause” of their protest “was to gain media attention and not to cause damage to a work of art”.

However, he agreed with prosecutor Robert Simpson’s argument that the protesters were “reckless” in that they knew damage to the frame would be a “by-product” of their actions.

Just Stop Oil protest court case
Climate activist Simon Bramwell speaking with reporters after his conviction at City of London Magistrates’ Court (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Following the sentencing, Bramwell told reporters that their convictions and fines would not deter them from taking part in future protests, because “the planet is f***ed”, and he believes da Vinci would have supported them.

He said: “I am confident that if Leonardo da Vinci were looking down on us, he would 100% agree with what we’ve done.

“He was quoted saying that ‘nature never breaks her own laws’. But we are breaking nature’s laws every day and as a result we’re killing the planet.”

When asked whether he was disappointed with the outcome of their case, he said: “I’m always disappointed because once again the law is failing the people of Britain, the law is failing the planet.

“As regards to this particular case, we do what we believe we have to do according to our consciences, and according to the hard science.

“We have to take the knocks along with that – the law is not going to change overnight.

“As regards what we did in consideration of the judge, he was fair in his remit as it were (but) we need the judiciary to start taking some large risks.

“We need them to start realising that the laws we have at the moment in this country are hostage to things like Big Oil and aren’t protecting everybody.”

Just Stop Oil protest court case
Climate activists Simon Bramwell, Lucy Porter and Caspar Hughes (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Bramwell has previous protest-related convictions, and when asked whether continuing financial hits would deter him from taking part in future demonstrations, he told the PA news agency: “We can’t stop this.

“We’ve got to continue in a space of civil resistance to fight for the planet, to fight for our children and to fight for all the species.

“What else is left to us at this stage in the game? We’re f***ed, we’re absolutely f***ed.

“This planet at the moment is headed towards a terminal diagnosis, we’ve got to try to do everything we can to stop that.”

In court, the judge described their case as “unusual” because all of the witnesses, including the defendants, were “credible” and had given “detailed” accounts of the large amount of planning which went into their protest.

District Judge Nelson added that the defendants “took efforts to minimise the damage they would cause” by experimenting with gluing themselves to different types of wood beforehand, and using soluble spray paint.

Just Stop Oil protest
The Just Stop Oil protesters glued themselves to the frame of a copy of The Last Supper (James Manning/PA)

They also targeted the Royal Academy of Arts because it had lower footfall than other galleries which would minimise the risk of “things getting out of control”, he said.

Outlining the reason for the terms of their punishment, the judge said: “I accept that the damage value if you take away the sofa is only £180.

“This is not a huge amount of money.

“However, the value of the damage is not the only barometer of which one measures its significance.

“The gallery had to shut for a day and rope off the area, and the repairs required proper, managed, thought-out conservation work by experts to ensure that the intrinsic value of the painting was the same.”

The activists had also previously been accused of causing £539.40 of damage to a nearby sofa, but the judge concluded that they were not responsible for this because CCTV evidence showed they were “nowhere near” it during the protest.

Just Stop Oil protest court case
Climate activist Lucy Porter was among those fined on Wednesday (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Bramwell, of Twyford, Berkshire; Hughes, of Exeter, Devon; and Porter, of Malvern, Worcestershire, attended the second day of their trial, while Agar, of Royston, Hertfordshire; and Strange of Swindon appeared via videolink.

They said the aim of their gallery protest had been to put pressure on the Government to halt new oil and gas licences in the UK and to encourage the directors, employees and members of art institutions to join JSO protests.

Da Vinci created The Last Supper in the 1490s, and the RA’s full-size copy of it was painted by one or more of his pupils.

The £3.6 million RA copy – which is attributed to Giampietrino and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio – is believed to be the most accurate record of the original and was painted in around 1515-20.