An Italian Court Has Blocked the Loan of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ to the Louvre at the Last Minute

The decision follows legal filings by an Italian heritage group.

Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (c. 1490). Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

An Italian court has thrown a big wrench into the Louvre’s plans for its blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of the Italian artist’s death by blocking a key loan from traveling to Paris.

The decision comes on the heels of a hail-Mary legal filing by the heritage group Italia Nostra, which argued in documents that Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man drawing is too fragile to leave the country and risks being damaged by bright exhibition lighting.

The 15th-century drawing, which can only be shown every six years for conservation reasons, would likely be off-limits for a decade following its return to the Accademia in Venice, according to Italia Nostra.

“All the technical reports have advised against the transfer of the very fragile design,” said Lidia Fersuoch, president of the Venetian chapter of Italia Nostra, in a statement reported by the Guardian.

This is the latest wrinkle in an ongoing saga between France and Italy, which have been at loggerheads since the election of a conservative coalition into Italian Parliament.

The Louvre’s Leonardo exhibition, timed to the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance artist’s death, has been caught in the cross-hairs of the many disagreements between the technocratic government of French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron and the nativist Lega Nord and populist Five Star parties in Italy.

At an appeals hearing scheduled for October 16, Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister for culture, will defend his decision to loan the artwork. Last month, in a gesture of good will towards France, he signed an agreement with French counterpart Franck Riester confirming the loan and several others, which have been in the works for months.

In return, France has agreed to lend its significant Raphael holdings for a major anniversary show of his work in Italy. “It is the duty of France and Italy to circulate [the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael] when technical conditions allow for it,” Riester said during their meeting.

Franceschini’s return to Italian politics—which also has major implications for the country’s foreign museum directors—follows his brief exodus by the far right, which is now facing a challenge from the center, which survived a crucial vote of confidence last month.

The Louvre’s hotly anticipated Leonardo show is set to run from October 24 through February 24, 2020.

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