Art Market

Italy and France agree to swap paintings by Leonardo and Raphael after a two-year feud.

Christy Kuesel
Sep 20, 2019 4:14PM, via The Guardian

Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, ca. 1490. Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Image by Beat Ruest, via Wikimedia Commons.

The diplomatic showdown over works by Leonardo and Raphael has come to a close, with Italy and France set to sign an agreement Tuesday to exchange paintings by the two Renaissance artists.

As a result of the deal, Italian museums will lends works by Leonardo da Vinci to the Louvre for a blockbuster exhibition next month marking the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death, while French institutions will lend Italian museums paintings by Raphael for events commemorating the 500th anniversary of his death next year.

Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini started the negotiations when he was culture minister for the Italian Democratic party in 2017, with the original plan involving 26 works of art by Leonardo traveling to the Louvre. That plan fell apart when a coalition between the far-right party Lega, or “League,” and anti-establishment party M5S took over in Italy. The new culture minister, Alberto Bonisoli, felt the deal was unbalanced. His deputy, Lucia Borgonzoni, famously declared, “Leonardo is Italian, he only died in France.”

French President Emmanuel Macron later tried to reconcile the two countries with a joint French-Italian celebration of Leonardo. Franceschini reclaimed his position as culture minister this month and revived the plans, and Macron arrived in Rome on Wednesday for a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Although Leonardo died in France, he was born in what is now Italy and spent most of his life there. The Louvre houses 5 of the 14 paintings attributed to Leonardo—the most famous, of course, being the Mona Lisa—so the museum hoped to source additional works from Italy. Although specific paintings have not been announced yet, the Guardian speculates they may include the Vitruvian Man drawing and the unfinished painting Saint Jerome in the Wilderness. The Leonardo exhibition at the Louvre opens October 24th and runs for four months; all visitors will need to reserve timed tickets in advance.

Christy Kuesel