Leonardo and Raphael loans, France beats Italy 21-7. Franceschini, what are you doing!

The agreement between Italy and France for Leonardo and Raphael loans is not only heavily imbalanced. One has to wonder whether the loans make sense and are worthwhile.

The exchange of works between Italy and France for the exhibitions celebrating the 500th anniversary of the disappearances of Leonardo and Raphael (in 2019 the Da Vinci, in 2020 the Urbino) provides that twenty-one works will leave Italy for France, including those of Leonardo da Vinci and those of his other illustrious colleagues (starting with Verrocchio), while France will deprive itself of only seven works by Raphael. That there is a strong imbalance isevident not only from the numbers, but also from the form devised to frame the loans: the “Memorandum of Understanding,” that is, the agreement signed on September 24 by the culture ministers of Italy and France, Dario Franceschini and Franck Riester, in fact includes the exchange of seven works on each side, and stipulates that the others arriving from Italy appear instead as “works not covered by the Memorandum” (but nevertheless loaned by our state museums). However, this in no way changes the substance: France gets twenty-one works, Italy seven. And if the form provided that fourteen works were excluded from the Memorandum (even though they will fly exactly like the others to Paris) it is probably an indication that the imbalance in favor of France was clear from the start.

But it is not just a question of quantity: the quality of the loans is also surprising. Among the works that Italy is depriving itself of are some of the most important, and at least three of these are by the public associated with the identity of their museums (theVitruvian Man, symbol of the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, the Scapiliata, now a famous icon of the Galleria Nazionale in Parma, and Verrocchio’sIncredulity of St. Thomas, probably together with Donatello’s St. Mark the best-known work in the Orsanmichele Museum). And masterpieces include the Uffizi’s Landscape Study, Leonardo’s earliest known work, dating from 1473. France responds with two paintings ( Portrait of Baldassarre Castiglione andSelf-Portrait with a Friend) and five drawings by Raphael: to get an idea of the imbalance, think of the reaction of a potential visitor to the Pilotta or the Orsanmichele Museum who, upon visiting them, does not find the Scapiliata or theIncredulity of St. Thomas there, and then try the same exercise by imagining a hypothetical visitor to the Louvre who does not find the Portrait of Baldassarre Castiglione or Raphael’sSelf-Portrait.

Leonardo da Vinci, Uomo vitruviano
Leonardo da Vinci, The Proportions of the Human Body According to Vitruvius - Vitruvian Man (c. 1490; metal point, pen and ink, touches of watercolor on white paper, 34.4 x 24.5 cm; Venice, Gallerie dellAccademia)

Leonardo da Vinci, Testa di donna detta La Scapiliata (1492 circa - 1501; biacca con pigmenti di ferro e cinabro, su preparazione di biacca contenente pigmenti a base di rame, giallo di piombo e stagno su tavola di noce, 24,7 x 21 cm; Parma, Complesso Monumentale della Pilotta, Galleria Nazionale)
Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Woman called La Scapiliata (c. 1492 - 1501; white lead with iron and cinnabar pigments, on white lead preparation containing copper, lead yellow, and tin pigments on walnut panel, 24.7 x 21 cm; Parma, Complesso Monumentale della Pilotta, Galleria Nazionale)

Andrea del Verrocchio, Incredulità di san Tommaso (1467-1483; bronzo con dorature, 241 x 140 x 105 cm; Firenze, Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele, dal tabernacolo dell�Università della Mercanzia)
Andrea del Verrocchio, Incredulity of St. Thomas (1467-1483; bronze with gilding, 241 x 140 x 105 cm; Florence, Church and Museum of Orsanmichele, from the tabernacle of the University of Mercanzia)

And that is only if we wanted to stop at political reasons, which, however, really should not be the basis for the loan of a work of art, in the most absolute way. Not least because everyone has his or her own motivations: there is no difference if you want to deny a loan because you believe that Leonardo is an Italian artist (this was the grotesque line of important players in the vast populist scene) or if instead you want to grant it to strengthen the friendship between two countries. Loans of ancient works of art should stay out of politics, because a loan is a scientific act, and not a political act. It would therefore be worth re-reading a celebrated article that Francis Haskell wrote in 1990, which was given the eloquent title Titian and the perils of international exhibition, and which the English art historian opened with a reflection on the necessary compromises on which all major international exhibitions of ancient art are based: on the one hand the lending institutions, which should grant their works only if genuine scholarly interests subsist on the other side, and on the other hand those who ask, which, however, Haskell wrote, often organize exhibitions that have nothing scientific about them, perhaps because they are set up for political reasons, for reasons of prestige or for reasons of box office. Loans, as a result, often have to conform to this logic, in the sense that they can become the object of political deals, or pawns to boost the prestige of an exhibition or its economic success. The only criteria that should guide the design of an exhibition should therefore be those of scientificity andusefulness.

It is clear and evident that the museums that will lend the works (Uffizi, Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, Complesso della Pilotta, Museo di Orsanmichele, Pinacoteca di Brera, and Musei Reali in Turin) have given their consent only after carefully verifying that the works are in a condition to travel. Just as it is glaringly obvious that the Louvre has what it takes to mount an exhibition on Leonardo that will be able to satisfy international audiences. The question must be asked, however, whether yet another exhibition on Leonardo, arranged only because a round anniversary falls this year (unfortunate: by now, it seems that art history can only be done with birthdays), and without any scientific novelties having been produced that are relevant enough to justify such a major movement of works, and this only four years after the last major exhibition (the one at the Palazzo Reale in Milan) and in the year in which, throughout Italy and beyond, we have witnessed a myriad of Leonardo events (some useful and scientifically inapposite, others less so). Not to mention the fact that, for one exhibition among many, the public could be deprived of the chance to see theVitruvian Man for a long time: colleagues at Corriere Veneto reported the opinion of the superintendent of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Marco Ciatti, according to whom further exposure of the fragile drawing could prevent it from being brought back to light for the next ten years. Not of the same opinion, on the other hand, appeared the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione e il Restauro, but the mere fact that one of the most accredited experts on the conservation of works expressed himself in certain terms should have suggested, at the very least, the utmost prudence, avoiding a trip of dubious utility to the paper, also because this year theVitruvian Man has already enjoyed an exhaustive exhibition in its home. A problem that, on the other front, also concerns the Portrait of Baldassarre Castiglione, albeit in lesser proportions, since the work in this case does not risk forced rest, but precisely by virtue of its fragility until 2006 it had never left the Louvre: after that it traveled often, which is why it would have been the case to avoid the painting a new trip.

<tdFranck Riester and Dario Franceschini sign loan agreement</td></tr></tbody></table> <br /><br /> <table class=“images-ilaria”><tbody><tr><td><img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=“https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2019/fn/franceschini-riester-divano-accordo.jpg” alt=“Franck Riester and Dario Franceschini” title=“Franck Riester and Dario Franceschini”></td></tr><tr><tdFranck Riester and Dario Franceschini</td></tr></tbody></table> </p> <p>Now, in the absence of any news about the Raphael exhibition in Rome, you can scroll through the <a href=“https://www.louvre.fr/en/expositions/leonardo-da-vinci” target=“_blank”>statements of intent of the one on Leonardo at the Louvre: “the museum,” the presentation reads, "in this year of commemoration, has the opportunity to gather as many of the artist’s works as possible around the five main works in the collection: Virgin of the Rocks, Belle Ferronnière,Mona Lisa, St. John the Baptist and St. Anne." And if one starts by putting it on the level of quantity, the departure is anything but positive. Then it turns out that “the aim is to exhibit the works together with a large nucleus of drawings and a small but significant selection of paintings and sculptures from the master’s circle”: and here the curators of the exhibition, Vincent Delieuvin and Louis Frank, blatantly mistake cause for effect, since the exhibition of a nucleus of works should be the means by which a goal is achieved, and not the end in itself. And again, “this unprecedented exhibition on Leonardo’s career as a painter will illustrate how the artist gave the greatest attention to painting, and how the exploration of the world, to which he referred by the expression ’science of painting,’ was the instrument of his art, with which he sought nothing more than to bring life into his paintings.” As if so far there have never been any exhibitions that have educated us about the meaning Leonardo attributed to painting. Finally, “the exhibition is the culmination of more than ten years of work, during which new scientific examinations were also conducted on the Louvre paintings and conservation interventions on three of them, which allowed a better understanding of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting practice and technique.” So if important results (it would seem mostly technical) have been achieved on the Louvre paintings, how can loans from Italy be justified in this operation?

Given this situation, some questions need to be addressed to Minister Dario Franceschini: why, on the mere level of quantity, does France come out of the negotiations with three times as many works as are instead granted to Italy? Dear Minister, how do you intend to explain to visitors to the Pilotta or Orsanmichele that two fundamental works will be missing from these museums, for quite a long time, because they have left for an exhibition that, on paper, does not seem to be supported by a scientific framework that could justify their loans? How do you intend to explain to the Italian public that, as a result of this trip, theVitruvian Man may not be exhibited for ten years, according to the comments of the superintendent of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure? Why have we learned of the resumption of negotiations with France from a British newspaper, without any room for public discussion? Should we expect massive exchanges of works of art for non-eminently scientific reasons to become commonplace, given also the fact that the Bonisoli reform extended to the figure of the secretary general the power to coordinate the lending policies of all state museums? Dear Minister, are you aware that the loan of a work is a decision that should exclusively concern the direction of a museum, and that, moreover, a director of an important state museum will be leaving his post in a few weeks partly because he believes that in Italy ministers interfere too much with the life of museums?

Finally, it is also necessary to comment on the words of French minister Franck Riester, according to whom “the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael belong to humanity” and it is “the duty of Italy and France to circulate them when technical conditions permit.” No, circulating the works is not a duty: it is an opportunity for knowledge that should occur where the right conditions exist. And the right conditions are not only the technical ones, because a trip can be technically feasible, but it can also be at the same time completely unnecessary, perhaps because the work goes to feed an exhibition where its presence would not add much. And a trip, even a technically feasible and correct one, reduces the possibility that that work might travel or be seen in the future-the example of theVitruvian Man seems clear enough. It is more necessary than ever to eschew the logic of artwork tourism (although unfortunately it seems to be impervious with increasing insistence), and it is, if anything, urgent to take action so that it is people who travel, rather than works.

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Franck Riester e Dario Franceschini firmano l'accordo per i prestiti