Poland Plots Acquisition of Leonardo’s ‘Lady With an Ermine’

The government unveiled a $2 billion takeover strategy.

Leonardo da Vinci, Lady With an Ermine (c. 1489–91). Courtesy of the National Museum, Krakow.

On Wednesday The Polish government unveiled plans to buy the famous Czartoryski family collection—which includes Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady With an Ermine (1489-90).

Though owned by the aristocratic Czartoryskis, the works are housed in the National Museum in Krakow, which is run by the state culture ministry. The two century old collection is estimated to be worth $2 billion.

The collection was established in 1801 by Princess Izabela Czartoryska in an effort to save aspects of European culture at a time when Poland was under the influence of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, subsequent to the 1795 split. The collection also encompasses notable works by Rembrandt, Luca Giordano, and Peter Brueghel the Younger.

Now the government wants to acquire the collection outright. In a parliamentary session on Tuesday, deputy culture minister Jaroslaw Selin outlined a plan for the potential acquisition of the iconic collection.

“The Polish state and thus the Polish nation will own one of the world’s most valuable art collections, including this work, which many art historians deem superior to the Mona Lisa,” Selin told fellow parliamentarians, according to the Polish press agency PAP.

National Museum, Krakow. Photo by mamik/fotopolska.eu Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported </a> license.

National Museum, Krakow. Photo by mamik/fotopolska.eu Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

The culture ministry’s priority is to ensure that the collection stays in the country to be enjoyed by future generations; but as long as the collection is controlled by the privately owned foundation, there is a theoretical possibility that it could be exported elsewhere.

In a statement to AFP on Wednesday, the Polish culture ministry said that minister Piotr Glinski “announced steps to finally set the status of the collection.” According to AFP that would entail reaching a deal with the president of the foundation, Madrid-based Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski.

However the head of the Czartoryski Foundation Marian Wolski said that a government takeover of the collection may be illegal due to stipulations that make the works “non-transferable and indivisible.” Wolski explained: “Our lawyers tell us that these principles cannot be changed.”

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