Just a week before the start of the Louvre’s much-anticipated blockbuster exhibition of works by Leonardo da Vinci, an Italian court threw out an appeal put forth two weeks ago that sought to keep the Vitruvian Man in Venice. With the court’s October 16th ruling, the drawing will make its way from Venice to Paris in preparation for the show, and at long last, this might be the final hiccup in the swapping saga between Italy and France.
The appeal was brought forth by Italia Nostra, an Italian heritage group, just over a week ago in a last-ditch effort to stop the loan of the drawing after a deal was signed on September 24th by Italian and French cultural ministers. In their appeal, Italia Nostra said that the drawing was far too fragile to make the journey and that it should remain in Venice at the Accademia Galleries. The Vitruvian Man is a part of the Venetian gallery’s principal collection, which consists of just 16 works, another point referenced in their attempt to keep the work in place. Both issues would coincide with an Italian law that forbids the loan of works that are ‘susceptible to damage during transportation, or in unfavourable environmental condition.’ The law also states that loaning works that are part of a principal collection is also not allowed.
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Despite their pleas, the Italian court decided to move forward with the loan stating that other works from the Accademia Galleries’ principal collection have been loaned in the past and therefore, the Vitruvian Man should not be treated differently. Moreover, the drawing will be in the Louvre’s exhibition when it starts on October 24th but will be included for just eight weeks. When it leaves the exhibition on December 14th, the exhibition will continue on until mid-February.
The Vitruvian Man is rarely displayed as it is very light sensitive and after it is, the drawing will go into a long period of conservation. The work was shown earlier this year in an exhibition at the Accademia, but before that, it was last shown in 2013. Since it will now be shown two time in the same year, it is likely to receive extended conservation upon its return to Venice.
After the court made its decision, Italia Nostra released a statement saying, ‘Today is not a good day for protection in Italy.’ Their sentiments were surely echoed by others who have in the past expressed concern for loaning out the drawing. However, some, like Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi, have differing thoughts. When asked about two works that are deemed ‘immovable’ at the Uffizi but are to be included in the Louvre’s exhibition, Schmidt told the New York Times ‘from a conservation point of view, it made no difference if [the works] are exhibited in Florence, Rome, Venice or Paris.’ He continued saying that otherwise, ‘It’s like the gold in Fort Knox: beautiful, but no one can see it.’
When the loans are all finalized for the Louvre, it will finally begin the official loan process between France and Italy, which has been a huge point of contention over the past two years. After the da Vincis are loaned, France has agreed to reciprocate by sending a number of works by Raphael to Italy next year in anticipation of exhibition celebrating the anniversary of his death.