ART & FINANCE/Alessandro Secciani
The story of the loan of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man to the Louvre, the most famous drawing in the world currently in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, is an extraordinary concentration of all the flaws of the Italian government’s cultural heritage. It all starts with the mania of centenaries: the anniversaries of the births and deaths of artists, usually loved by mass media and marketing, but certainly devoid of any scientific value. And above all, leading to only one thing: colossal celebratory exhibitions. When the anniversaries are those of the deaths of Leonardo (1519) and Raphael (1520), they literally become state affairs.
It was 2017 when Italy and the Louvre agreed on a deal typical of a livestock market: Leonardo to France and Raphael to Italy. Very fragile and fundamental works such as the Vitruvian Man in Venice and the Landscape of 1473 in the Uffizi would thus leave Italy.
The government then changed and Salvini’s nationalist winds started to blow on the agreement: from reducing everything to marketing to the farce of nationalism, crying “keep your French hands off Leonardo!” Luckily enough, someone still does their job. Thus, the director of the Accademia, Paola Marini, stated the obvious: the Vitruvian Man is part of the main fund of the Museum and therefore – under Article 66, paragraph 2, letter b of the Code of Cultural Heritage – cannot leave the territory of the Republic. In addition, the Museum’s restoration cabinet speaks clearly: the drawing is too fragile and cannot travel. In any country in the world, this would have been the last word.
But this is Italy, and when Marini retired, the secretary general of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, now headed by the movement 5 Stelle, took the interim direction of the museum and reopened the matter, asking the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and the Istituto Centrale del Restauro to give their opinion. Both these prestigious institutions, very sensitive to the political power to which they owe funds and their survival, gave their opinion on the matter without even extracting the work from the climabox. They said that it could certainly go to Paris provided it remained in the dark for the following ten years.
This was last September.
After the craziest government crisis, Dario Franceschini flew to France to sign a Memorandum with his French counterpart that obliged museums to lend a list of precise works. Unfortunately, according to Italian law, such an agreement should be made by the Director General of the museums, as the technical director, and not by the minister (political body). The commentary of the prestigious Tribune de l’art is worth reading:
«Ce protocole est ridicule, car il organise quelque chose qui n’est pas et ne devrait jamais être du niveau du pouvoir politique, mais bien de celui des musées et de leurs responsables. Il est d’ailleurs amusant que lors des questions des journalistes le ministre italien – qui paraissait d’ailleurs assez peu à l’aise – ait tenu à préciser que « le gouvernement n’avait pas de compétence sur le prêt des œuvres d’art » et que «le prêt est de la compétence exclusive des musées et des autorités scientifiques qui l’autorisent ou ne l’autorisent pas», alors qu’il venait exactement de démontrer l’inverse avec cet accord politique entre la France et l’Italie».
In the meantime, the Venetian section of Italia Nostra decided to appeal to the Tar against the new director of the Academy, Giulio Manieri Elia, who formally granted the loan of the drawing. This is a fundamental step because it allowed access to all the Mibact papers concerning the matter, and therefore to the documentation regarding the ways of expelling scientific knowledge (unfortunately often embodied by people who are too weak) from the government of cultural heritage. Let’s take an example. The documentation included a wonderful letter sent by the Director General of the Museums to the Director of the Academy of Venice the day before the ministers signed the agreement. It reads, among other things: “The loan in question should be denied, since the albeit reduced risk described in the last and most recent of the opinions issued by the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro does not seem to be matched by a sufficient advantage for the Gallerie dell’Accademia of Venice. However, the above reasons of cultural diplomacy must be considered and if a Memorandum of Understanding is signed by the competent ministers, containing detailed and clear indications of the significant compensation for high level Italian initiatives, Your Lordship can justify any consent to the loan”. The following day, Franceschini signed the Memorandum and consequently the Academy granted the loan. This document, among many others, clearly shows that the technicians, indecorously prostrated, waited for the decisions of the Minister. How the TAR rejected (having read this letter!) the appeal of Italia Nostra writing, among other things, that the Memorandum would not affect the decisions of Mibact’s technical bodies, because they had already been taken, is an all-Italian mystery. One of many