Italy can loan Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man to France, Italian court rules

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Italy can loan Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man to France, Italian court rules
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Da Vinci is kept in a special vault in Venice's Accademia Gallery. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

An Italian court on Wednesday rejected a last-minute bid to halt the loan of Leonardo Da Vinci's iconic Vitruvian Man drawing and other works to France's Louvre museum, ending a bitter cultural row.


The court last week suspended the loan of the world-famous artwork, due to appear later this month in an exhibition at the Paris museum to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist's death, after the group Italia Nostra ('Our Italy') filed a complaint saying the drawing was too fragile to travel.

The Vitruvian Man is kept in a climate-controlled vault in the Accademia Gallery in Venice and is rarely displayed to the public. 

The court in Venice cited "the exceptional global relevance of the [Louvre] exhibition and [Italy's] desire to maximise its heritage potential" in overturning the bid to stop the loan of several Da Vinci works.

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Photo: DepositPhotos

The 35-by-25-centimetre drawing depicts the proportions of the human body according to Roman architect Vitruvius. A man is shown with his legs apart and together in two superimposed images within a square and a circle, in a supremely Renaissance combination of art and mathematics.

The drawing is insured for at least €1 billion, Italian media have said.

'Cultural operation'

The court had put on hold an accord signed in September in Paris between Italy's culture ministry and the Louvre for a swap of works for the Renaissance master's quincentennial next year.

Rome is lending several Leonardo works to the Louvre for a major exhibition that opens next week. In return, paintings and drawings by the Italian artist Raphael are to be loaned to Italy for an exhibition in the Italian capital in March.

"Now the great Italian-French cultural operation of the two exhibitions on Leonardo in Paris and Raphael in Rome can start," Italy's Cultural Heritage Minister Dario Franceschini tweeted after the court ruling.

The loan was already questioned by Italy's former populist government, which railed against the idea of lending Da Vinci works to France. The previous coalition government, which included the nationalist League, had repeated disputes with France, in particular with President Emmanuel Macron on immigration issues.

Wednesday's court ruling hailed "the value of collaboration and exchange between States [and] the improved image and recognition of Venice's Accademia Gallery."


With fewer than 20 Leonardo paintings still in existence, many Italians are resentful that the Louvre possesses five of them, as well as 22 drawings. The Renaissance genius was born in Tuscany in Italy, but died in the French town of Amboise in 1519, at the age of 67.

Italia Nostra said its motives were not political, but aimed at safeguarding a national treasure. It said the Vitruvian Man risked tearing and those who had given the green light for it to travel had not removed it from its case to examine it properly.



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