Attackers who damaged an artist’s exhibition avoided spray painting images of same-sex kissing – only because they had been hidden from view.

Gonzalo Orquin’s photography collection has already angered the Vatican who claimed the exhibition at The Galleria L’Opera in Rome “could harm the religious sentiment of the faithful”.

Catholic officials threatened Mr Orquin with legal action last month.

The Galleria L’Opera and the artist subsequently decided to cover up the same-sex kissing pieces as his lawyers work on mounting a response.

Flavio Romani, president of gay rights organisation Arcigay, described the Vatican’s reaction as “grotesque”.

On Thursday it was reported that three of Mr Orquin’s pieces, including of a young female priest, had been smeared in spray paint.

Mr Orquin’s “Si Quiero” collection of same-sex kissing avoided damage primarily because the images had already been obscured from view.

Despite the attack, the artist stands by his photos. “I am a Catholic. I believe in God deeply,” Mr Orquin told Italy’s The News. “I think if you look closely at my pictures no one can find blasphemy or sacrilege. A kiss is a gesture of love, of tenderness between human beings.”