ROME — An Italian court ruled on Wednesday that Leonardo’s famous “Vitruvian Man” drawing would be allowed to leave Italy for the much-ballyhooed Leonardo exhibition that opens at the Louvre in Paris on Oct. 24.
The drawing, a study of the proportions of the human body that dates to around 1490, will be shown at the Louvre for eight weeks until Dec. 14. The Leonardo exhibition, which commemorates the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death in France, will continue through Feb. 24.
The court’s ruling was the latest twist in a drawn out and at times bitter drama that played out over the loan of several Leonardo works from Italian museums to the Louvre. At one point, an Italian deputy minister accused France of trying to culturally appropriate the Italian artist; others raised concerns about the fragility of the works, and about cultural diplomacy trumping scientific merit in deciding the loans.
The heritage conservation group Italia Nostra had tried to block the loan, arguing that “Vitruvian Man” was too delicate to leave Italy. The loan, the group argued, violated an Italian law that forbids the loan of any works that form the principal collection of a museum, gallery, archive or library, or any work “susceptible to damage during transportation, or in unfavorable environmental conditions.”
In a statement last week, Italia Nostra pointed out that “Vitruvian Man” was one of 16 officially designated works that formed the “principal collection” of the Accademia Galleries in Venice, where the work has been part of the collection since 1822. The curators of the drawing at the Venice museum declined to be interviewed, but in an interview last year, the director of the Accademia Galleries at the time, Paola Marini, said that the curators had not been in favor of the loan.
“Vitruvian Man” is rarely lent and is not permanently displayed. On its website, the Accademia Galleries notes that the drawing must be protected from direct light and constantly monitored. Earlier this year, however, the drawing was on show in Venice as part of a Leonardo exhibition. Before that, it was last exhibited in 2013.
On Wednesday, an administrative court in Italy’s northern Veneto region wrote that while the drawing was part of the Accademia’s principal collection, other works on that list had been lent in the past. It also noted that technical reports by two of Italy’s most important restoration institutes said that the drawing could travel, as long as it would be shown for a limited number of days and under specific lighting conditions.
The drawing was one of several works by Leonardo lent to the Louvre as part of an exchange agreement signed on Sept. 24 by the culture ministers of Italy and France.
In its ruling, the Veneto tribunal noted that in return for the loan of “Vitruvian Man” and other works, the Louvre next year will send to Rome two paintings by Raphael, along with several drawings, for an exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death.
On Twitter, Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said the ruling was vindication that the ministry had acted properly.
“Now the great Italo-French cultural operation of the two exhibits on Leonardo in Paris and Raphael in Rome can begin,” he wrote.
Italia Nostra was not pleased, saying in a statement, “Today is not a good day for protection in Italy.” The group pledged to fight on, and said that raising the issue of how works of art are lent out was a victory on its own.
While the ruling closed one chapter, another opened on Tuesday with a brewing kerfuffle over two other works that have already left Italy for the Louvre’s blockbuster show.
Tomaso Montanari, an art historian and member of the scientific committee of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, raised concerns about the loan of two works in the Uffizi collection to the Louvre: “Study of a Landscape” from 1473, believed to be Leonardo’s earliest known work, and a study for “The Adoration of the Magi,” dated around 1481.
Both drawings are on the Uffizi’s list of “immovable works,” so the loan to the Louvre was both “against the law and against good sense,” Mr. Montanari said in a telephone interview. “If something is immovable, you don’t send it to France.”
Both drawings were also part of the Sept. 24 exchange agreement signed by the two culture ministers, which Mr. Montanari cited as evidence that Italy’s patrimony was no longer the purview of scientists and technicians, “but in the hands of politicians,” as it had been during the time of Mussolini.
“That’s the real issue, scientific knowledge should have priority over politics,” he said.
But Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi, said that like all of the drawings in the collection, the two would be shown only once every five years, and that care was taken with travel arrangements and the conditions under which they were displayed.
“From a conservation point of view, it made no difference if they are exhibited in Florence, Rome, Venice or Paris,” he said.
And Franco Conte, the lawyer for a consumer’s rights group that opposed the Italia Nostra petition during Wednesday’s hearing, said the ruling “recognized the fact that art is something that should be shared.”
Otherwise, he added, “It’s like the gold in Fort Knox: beautiful, but no one can see it.”