Italian court blocks loan of Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece to France

Courts say da Vinci's Vitruvian Man too fragile to travel to Louvre.

Italy's culture minister Dario Franeschini is expected to challenge the ruling of an Italian court which blocked the loan of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man from the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice to the Musée du Louvre in Paris, on the grounds that the 15th-century masterpiece was too fragile.

The drawing, which dates to 1490, was intended to be a focal point of the Louvre's blockerbuster exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of the Renaissance genius, due to open on 24 October.

However the administrative court of Italy's northern Veneto region ruled against the loan, just weeks after it had been finalised by the culture ministries of Italy and France.

The ruling followed a motion challenging the loan, submitted by heritage group Italia Nostra, which argued that sending the masterpiece to France would violate an Italian law prohibiting the loan of art works which are “susceptible to damage in transport or when on display in unfavourable environmental conditions.”

Wider implications

The ruling could have wider implications as The Vitruvian Man formed part of an agreement between France and Italy involving the loans of priceless works by da Vinci and Raphael: France was to receive seven works by da Vinci and in exhange France would send works by Raphael for a blockbuster show at Rome's Scuderie del Quirinale next year, marking the 500th anniversary of Raphael's death.

Italy's newly-returned culture minister Franceschini of the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD) is now expected to appeal the court's decision at a hearing on 16 October, a week before the opening of the Louvre show. The other da Vinci loans included four drawings from the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, with media reporting that these works are already on their way to France.

Acceptable risks

Franceschini, who initiated the loan deal in 2017, says that he consulted specialists at Italy's top restoration laboratories and was informed that the loan of The Vitruvian Man was "not without risks" but that these risks were "acceptable." However the experts also advised that if the drawing went to France it would subsequently have to go into storage for a decade.

The loan deal floundered under Franceschini's successor Alberto Bonisoli, of the populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), who claimed the deal was unbalanced, however Bonisoli left office with the fall of the last government in early September.

Vitruvian Man is normally kept in a climate-controlled vault in Venice and is only put on public display for short periods every six years.

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Italian court blocks loan of Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece to France

Campo della Carita, 1050, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy