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Europe

Row with Italy mars French da Vinci celebration

media FILE PHOTO: Visitors take pictures of the painting "Mona Lisa" (La Joconde) by Leonardo Da Vinci at the Louvre museum in Paris, France, December 3, 2018. Picture taken December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

To mark the fifth centenary of Leonardo da Vinci's death, France's Louvre museum will stage an epic exhibition in October, assembling major works by the Florentine master consisting of impressive international loans. But right-wing Italians, livid at the event are threatening to block their loans to the Louvre.

The row erupted in late November. Italy's junior culture minister Lucia Bergonzoni, a member of the far-right League, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that she wanted to revise a deal to loan all of Italy's da Vinci paintings to the Louvre to mark 500 years since his death.

"Leonardo is Italian, he only died in France," Bergonzoni said of the Renaissance polymath who was born in Italy in 1452 and died in France in 1519.

"Where museums' autonomy is concerned, national interest cannot come second," she said.

"The French cannot have everything," she insisted, accusing Paris of trying to culturally appropriate Leonardo for its blockbuster event.

The accusations will do little to help diplomatic relations between France and Italy that have already hit a snag over issues such as immigration and the Libyan crisis.

Culture had long been a relatively neutral terrain. Not anymore.

Celebrations to continue

Despite the rift, art lovers in France are determined to celebrate one of the greatest Renaissance painters in the history of Western art, and prove his connection to La République.

"He was invited to France by King Francis I," explains Jean d'Haussonville, museum director of the Château de Chambord, famous for its distinctive French Renaissance architecture, and one of the 500 sites chosen to host a series of birthday celebrations for the Renaissance master.

"We will be the only ones apart from the Louvre in Paris to present the original sheets of Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus," d'Haussonville told RFI's French service.

The Louvre decided to push back its da Vinci retrospective to October, to give Italian museums space for their own Leonardo exhibits in the spring. Both Florence's Uffizi and Milan's Leonardo da Vinci Experience Museums will kick off centenary celebrations in May to coincide with da Vinci's death.

Still, the Uffizi museum, much in the same vein as junior culture minister Bergonzoni, has said it would not loan Leonardo masterpieces, including The Baptism of Christ, because they were too fragile.

Italy kicked da Vinci out

The loan agreement that Bergonzoni wants to scrap, would see France loan works by another Renaissance master, Raphael, to Rome's Scuderi del Quirinale museum for a 2020 exhibition to mark 500 years since his death, in exchange for Italy's Leornados.

"Most of Raphael's works are already in Italy," comments Bergonzoni. "What's more, Paris says that only 'movable' paintings can come to us, without specifying which ones," Bergonzoni told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"This whole squabble is ridiculous," reckons for his part Stephane Bern, French ambassador for the da Vinci centenary celebrations.

"Italy kicked da Vinci out because he was gay, and it was France that took him in," he told RFI's French service. "Furthermore, France bought his works. Therefore we have a legal right to them."

Two of da Vinci's most famous works The Last Supper (1495–1498) and Mona Lisa (1503–1517), are among the most reproduced images ever made.

The free thinker, who once remarked “Nature is the source of all true knowledge (...)" may have hoped his achievements would lift humanity’s sights above such hum-drum concerns and political squabbles, but 500 years after his death he remains at the centre of a diplomatic storm.

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