Leonardo da Vinci’s Prized ‘Vitruvian Man’ May Not Travel to Paris for Louvre Retrospective After All

Leonardo da Vinci, 'Vitruvian Man', ca. 1490.

Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, ca. 1490.


The question of which masterpieces will appear in the Louvre’s big Leonardo da Vinci retrospective, due to open in Paris on October 24, has plagued the exhibition since its early planning stages, with political issues and conservation concerns threatening to nix some loans. Even as its opening looms, the final checklist is still in flux.

On Monday, an Italian court blocked the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice from lending one of Leonardo’s most famous works, his ca. 1490 drawing Virtruvian Man, to the Louvre for the show, saying it is too fragile to make the trip. The Tribunale Amministrativo Regionale (TAR) in Venice delivered its opinion after Italia Nostra, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting Italian artworks, lobbied for the museum not to lend the work.

“Italia Nostra welcomes the decision with great satisfaction,” the organization’s national president, Mariarita Signorini, and its Venice president, Lidia Fersuoch, said in a joint statement, adding that the ruling speaks to “the heart of the founding principles of Italia Nostra.”

A representative for the Louvre, whose show is timed to the 500th anniversary of the artist’s dead, declined to comment.

In its decision, TAR said the work could not travel because the Vitruvian Man is too fragile. Because of the prized drawing’s precarious state, the Gallerie dell’Accademia can only show it once every six years, for just a few weeks at a time, and it was already exhibited this past summer in Venice.

The Vitruvian Man has been the subject of diplomatic wrangling ever since the Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, began lobbying in 2017 for the loan to be made. Some had said it should not travel, citing its condition or arguing that so celebrated a work by the Italian-born Leonardo should remain in the country on the anniversary of his death. But the Gallerie dell’Accademia’s director agreed to send it in exchange for the opportunity to borrow works by Raphael from the Louvre.

It is not the only major work that reportedly won’t make it to the Louvre for the show. In September, the Art Newspaper reported that Salvator Mundi—the $450.3 million painting that shattered auction records in 2017—would not be included, either.

The tribunal’s decree may not be the end of the story, however. On October 16, the court will reconvene to discuss the loan again.

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