Italy blocks deal to lend works by da Vinci to the Louvre in 2019

Italy blocks deal to lend works by da Vinci to the Louvre in 2019
'The Annunciation,' Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1472. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In November it became clear that the Italian government might overturn their agreement to loan a number of works by Leonardo da Vinci to the Louvre this year for a massive exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Old Master’s death. Well, it seems that Italy’s populist ‘Italians-first’ government will in fact block these loans. The initial agreement was made by Italy’s then minister of culture Dario Franceschini but undersecretary for the ministry of culture Lucia Borgonzoni saw this as a mistake. ‘Leonardo is Italian; he only died in France… giving the Louvre all those paintings would mean putting Italy in the margins of a great cultural event,’ Borgonzoni told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

There are a number of da Vinci’s getting ready to shift around in celebration of the artist who was born in the Italian town Vinci in 1452 and died in Amboise, France in 1519. Bill Gates has already lent the Leicester Codex to Florence’s Uffizi Gallery specifically for the anniversary of the artist’s death making it the first time in 20 years the manuscript found its way to Italy. The Louvre, though, has yet to say which artworks, exactly, it was set to secure from Italy for its show later this year. However, part of the 2017 deal also promised that shows marking the death of da Vinci would not compete with the Louvre’s all-encompassing show, which only added fuel to Borgonzoni’s fire.

The Italian Ministry of Culture’s decision could come with some unpleasant side-effects, though. The 2017 agreement did secure the loan of artworks by da Vinci’s Italian contemporary Raphael who died in 1520 setting the stage for a year of exhibitions celebrating his works 500 years on next year. The quid pro quo agreement will now be in jeopardy if Italy does ultimately pull out of the original agreement but it seems the Ministry of Culture is willing to take that risk.

We do know, however, that the Louvre contacted the Uffizi Gallery with the hopes of taking three works – The Annunciation (c. 1472), The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1482), and The Baptism of Christ (c. 1475) – on loan from the Florence gallery. Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi, has stated that those works will not be leant to the Paris museum as they are far too fragile to travel. Schmidt stated ‘I am sure my French colleagues at the [museum] will support me when I apply the same rules to our Leonardo paintings that they apply to the Mona Lisa.’ This refers to the Louvre’s ban on lending out the Mona Lisa as it is too fragile to be transported.

Though a big question mark still looms over the Louvre as to how they will respond and how Italy will move forward with exhibitions highlighting da Vinci, 2019 is still a year to celebrate the ‘universal genius’ of da Vinci.