This week, the Louvre’s highly anticipated Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death, opened its doors to the public. However, the process of negotiating the necessary loan agreements with Italy has been complex and controversial. Just days before opening, the loan of one of Da Vinci’s most famous works, the Vitruvian Man, was still being disputed.
The Louvre’s Leonardo exhibition has demonstrated how politically sensitive a museum loan agreement can be. As reported in the Guardian, the original agreement between France and Italy was disrupted by changes to the Italian government. The new coalition’s deputy culture minister criticised the French for overshadowing Italian commemorations of the artist. The matter was not resolved until the former culture minister, Dario Franceschini, was reinstated in his position.
The latest setback came when Italia Nostra, a heritage group, brought a case before Italian courts seeking to prevent the loan of the Vitruvian Man from the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice.
As reported in the Art Newspaper, Italia Nostra argued that the loan violated an Italian law preventing the loan of works which are ‘susceptible to damage in transport or when on display in unfavourable environmental conditions’. They also argued that a law preventing loans of works which are integral to museums and galleries’ collections had been violated. Although successful at first instance, the Administrative Tribunal of Veneto overturned the decision to block the loan. The tribunal stated that these laws give wide discretion to officials when making these decisions. The Galleria dell’Accademia had loaned important works from their collection previously and the fragility of the Vitruvian Man had been thoroughly assessed before the loan was agreed. The tribunal also considered the value of the co-operation which promotes Italian culture abroad and supports exchange. Speaking of which, in return for the da Vinci loans, Italy will be able to borrow paintings by Raphael for an exhibition in Rome next year.
The decision represents a victory for collaboration between cultural institutions, emphasising the importance of sharing culture across national borders. However, as reported in the New York Times, the exchange agreement governing the mutual loans has continued to garner criticism for being driven by politicians rather than the technical experts best placed to mastermind the delicate task of moving such precious items of cultural heritage.
This latest incident represents yet another intriguing development in what is turning out to be one of the most hotly anticipated exhibitions to be delivered in Europe this year. The question as to whether it will feature the Salvator Mundi, famously sold for $450 million at Christie’s in New York on the 15th of November 2017, is still drawing press attention despite the fact the show has now opened. Interestingly, the Louvre have opted to display another version, this one attributed as ‘studio of’ Leonardo.
Nonetheless, the Vitruvian Man will be present at the Louvre and, as a result of the careful negotiations between France and Italy, the public will have the chance to see many of Leonardo’s works together in the exhibition.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, public domain, via Luc Viatour.