Leonardo’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ Is Headed to the Louvre Despite Italian Scholars’ Protests

Some researchers say the roughly 530-year-old drawing is too fragile, light-sensitive to travel

Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian Man
Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" will make an appearance in the Louvre's upcoming blockbuster exhibition Public domain

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is set to appear in the Louvre’s upcoming blockbuster exhibition following the failure of a last-minute appeal aimed at preventing the fragile drawing’s loan to France.

As first reported by Italian radio station RTL, the Administrative Court of Veneto rejected an appeal raised by heritage group Italia Nostra after determining the complaint “[did] not present sufficient evidence” to block the loan.

Per the Art Newspaper’s Cristina Ruiz, Italia Nostra Director Lidia Fersuoch had previouly said the roughly 530-year-old sketch—which is extremely fragile and can only be exposed to light for short periods of time—would need to be kept in storage for a decade if shown at the Paris museum. Typically, the Vitruvian Man is displayed at Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia for a few weeks at a time every six years.

Leonardo’s masterful anatomy drawing dates to around 1590. It entered the Venice museum’s collection in 1822 and is rarely displayed, let alone lent to other institutions. The Vitruvian Man was most recently shown at the Gallerie’s spring Leonardo exhibition, which took place between April 17 and July 14; prior to this appearance, the work was last exhibited in 2013.

According to the New York Times’ Elisabetta Povoledo, the Veneto court partially based its decision on a pair of technical reports prepared by two of Italy’s top restoration institutes. These documents suggested the drawing was fit for travel as long as it was shown for a limited time under specific lighting.

The tribunal also cited an agreement signed by Italy and France’s respective culture ministers in late September. This compromise, finalized following months of sometimes contentious negotiations, outlined an exchange of works by two Renaissance greats: Leonardo and Raphael.

Italy agreed to loan the Vitruvian Man, four drawings held by Florence’s Uffizi Gallery and an unfinished painting owned by the Galleria Nazionale di Parma for the Louvre’s “Leonardo da Vinci” exhibition, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death and is scheduled to run from October 24 to February 24, 2020, while France said it would send two Raphael paintings—Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione and Self-Portrait With a Friend—in time for a retrospective at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale. The exhibition, set to open in March 2020, will mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death.

Following the Veneto court’s ruling, Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini said the decision reaffirmed his ministry’s initial instincts regarding the loan. “Now the great Italo-French cultural operation of the two exhibits on Leonardo in Paris and Raphael in Rome can begin,” he wrote on Twitter.

Italia Nostra President Mariarita Signorini, meanwhile, criticized the decision in a statement posted on the group’s website.

“If the indications of the restorers and conservators are all questionable,” she said, “then today is a bad day for the future of heritage of Italy.”

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