Italy and France to loan works by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, deal to be signed today

Italy and France to loan works by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, deal to be signed today
Leonardo da Vinci, 'Vitruvian Man', c. 1492. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
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After two years of going back and forth, it seems Italy and France have finally reached an agreement concerning the loans of by of the most well-known Renaissance artists of all time: Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. Today, the countries are expected to sign an agreement in Paris that will put the will-they-won’t-they dispute behind them, allowing for both countries to move forward with exhibitions planned for the coming months.

The deal comes at a critical moment as the Louvre preps for a massive blockbuster exhibition of works by Leonardo to mark the 500th anniversary of his death. With the agreement, works that are owned by Italian institutions will make their way to the French capital just in the nick of time. In return, Italy will secure the loan of works by Raphael from French institutions for exhibitions scheduled for next year that will celebrate the 500th anniversary of his death.

Tensions began last year when Italy threatened to go back on their agreement that would loan the Leonardo works to France. That deal was struck in 2017 while Dario Franceschini was Italy’s cultural minister. The deal, which involves a total of 26 paintings, fell apart when in March of last year, the Democratic party of Italy was overtaken by the Five Star Movement (M5S), a far-right, Italy-first political party. With that, Franceschini was replaced as cultural minister by Alberto Bonisoli and his deputy, Lucia Borgonzoni, who in November began pushing back against the deal. At that time, Borgonzoni called Franceschini ‘unbelievable’ and said that ‘[giving] the Louvre all these paintings would put Italy on the margins of a major cultural event.’

This sudden snap back to the original plan, though, has come after the M5S formed an alliance with Italy’s Democratic party to avoid a potential snap election brought on by former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini. Along with a number of changes that have come since this happened, Franceschini has been reinstated as cultural minister and the deal he agreed to two years ago is back on.

Throughout the entire process, the exact paintings that will be lent between the two countries have remained unknown. The Louvre has five of the 14 attributed paintings by Leonardo, most famous, of course, being the Mona Lisa. The Guardian has speculated that the Vitruvian Man and Saint Jerome in the Wilderness might be amongst the loans. In just a month, though, the exhibition, simply titled ‘Leonardo da Vinci,’ will open and the fruits of the agreement between France and Italy will be seen.

This agreement is one of a number of signs that the countries are friendly once again, but it also sets Italy up for a good position as Raphael’s year in the limelight approaches. ‘The year of Leonardo is drawing to an end,’ said Barbara Agosti, a professor of Art History at Rome’s Tor Vergata University to The Guardian, ‘and so most of the work had already been done. Next up is Raphael.’ So, for now, it seems both countries will get what they want – at least when it comes to the art of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.