No Louvre lost as Italians Mona bout Leonardos
Italians vow to block loan of works to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist's death, without something in return
Italy’s populist government has escalated tensions with France by threatening to cancel the loan of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci for an exhibition at the Louvre.
Lucia Borgonzoni, the undersecretary of state at the ministry for cultural heritage and activities, said the government would block the loan of several prominent artworks.
“When I discovered it, I thought this is one of the most shameful acts of the previous government with regard to cultural heritage,” said Borgonzoni, of the far-right League party. “How could any Italians be in favour of giving over these Leonardo works without asking for something equally important to display in this anniversary year? Leonardo was Italian, after all. Why don’t they loan us Mona Lisa?”
Both countries are preparing to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of the Renaissance artist. The Louvre has repeatedly rebuffed requests to allow the Mona Lisa to be displayed in Italy, where experts believe Leonardo began painting the enigmatic portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, an Italian noblewoman.
He moved to France in 1516, where La Gioconda, as Italians call the painting, was acquired by the French royal family after the artist’s death. Since the French Revolution it has been owned by the French government.
The Louvre declined to comment but according to ministry officials a deal to loan France paintings had been discussed in a series of e-mails between former Italian culture ministery officials and directors of the Louvre in 2017, when the Paris museum was planning its anniversary exhibition. In exchange, the Louvre had agreed to loan unspecified works by Raphael to Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale heritage museum for a 2020 exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of the High Renaissance master’s death.
Since the populist government was formed in June this year, relations between France and Italy have turned increasingly sour. Antipathy has grown between Matteo Salvini, the League leader and Italian interior minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, with the two trading insults over immigration, border security and nationalism.
After Italy launched its own series of Leonardo anniversary events this year, ministry officials discovered some precious works were about to be shipped off to France. Culture ministry officials say the Louvre had made a request in late September to the Galleria Borghese in Rome for a noted copy of Leda and the Swan, attributed to the Renaissance artist Il Sodoma.
Other museum directors in Venice, Turin and Florence said they had also been contacted and were reluctant to loan their most celebrated Leonardos, including the painting Annunciation and the drawing Vitruvian Man.
“We’ve stopped everything and the ministry is taking it into our own hands now,” Borgonzoni said. “Of course, we are willing to sit at the table to discuss the Louvre’s wish list, but in the spirit of reciprocal respect, which in past years has been missing.”
Ministry officials say Italy is considering loaning Leonardo’s 1508 oil-on-wood painting La Scapigliata, or Head of a Young Woman with Tousled Hair, from the National Gallery of Parma.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited