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Italys new government set to sign entente cordiale with France to exchange masterpieces

Italy and France are set to sign an agreement to exchange works by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, burying a spat triggered by Italys former populist government.

The deal is expected to be signed in Paris on Tuesday by the recently reappointed Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, and his French counterpart, Franck Riester. It will result in Italian museums lending works by Leonardo to the Louvre, in Paris, for an exhibition in October to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the artists death. In return, France will lend Italy paintings by Raphael for events marking 500 years since his death next year.

A spokesman for Franceschini said many works would be exchanged, but which ones would be determined in the next week.

Franceschini began the negotiations between French and Italian museums when he served as culture minister under the centre-left Democratic partys government in 2017. The plan envisaged 26 paintings and drawings by Leonardo being lent to the Louvre for its October show.

The Paris museum holds five of only 14 paintings attributed to Leonardo, born near the Tuscan hill town of Vinci in 1452, and hoped to source further works from Italy that were robust enough to travel. They are thought to have included the Vitruvian Man drawing, in Venice, as well as the unfinished painting Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, currently on display at the Vatican Museums.

The plan hit a stumbling block when the Democratic party was ousted from government in Italys general elections in March 2018, paving the way for a coalition between the far-right League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). The then culture minister, M5Ss Alberto Bonisoli, hindered progress, claiming the deal was unbalanced. His deputy, Lucia Borgonzoni, from the League, threatened to cancel the loan of Leonardo works last November, accusing France of trying to take centre stage in the commemorations and sidelining Italy, saying Leonardo is Italian; he only died in France.

A mural by the street artist Tvboy in Rome, Italy, celebrates the agreement between the Democratic party and the Five Star Movement. Entitled The Three Graces, it is inspired by the work of Raphael. Photograph: Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images

The renaissance master was party a wider diplomatic dispute, mostly over immigration, between the two countries which led to France recalling its Rome ambassador in February. Tensions began to ease after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, invited his Italian counterpart, Sergio Mattarella, to France in May to mark the beginning of the year-long Leonardo commemorations.

The deal was revived when Franceschini returned to the culture ministry this month after M5S formed a coalition with the Democratic party, foiling the former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvinis gambit to collapse the government and force snap elections.

Macron arrived in Rome on Wednesday for a meeting with Mattarella and the reappointed prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, confirming the two countries were friends again.

Barbara Agosti, an art history professor at Tor Vergata University of Rome and a member of the committee set up by Franceschini to oversee Leonardo events in Italy, was unable to shed any light on the works that will be exchanged.

But it was only a matter of signing a deal, she said. The year of Leonardo is drawing to an end and so most of the work had already been done. Next up is Raphael.

Another committee is expected to plan events to commemorate Raphael, who died in April 1520.

We hope now that the situation has calmed down that everyone can work well all the rowing and uncertainty made it very difficult to work well, added Agosti.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/sep/19/italy-and-france-bury-hatchet-over-leonardo-da-vinci-celebrations