Uffizi draws the line at Leonardo loan request for Milan Expo show

Milan’s mayor fails to drag Italian minister of culture into row



The director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has refused to submit to pressure to lend Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, 1472-75, to an exhibition at Milan’s Palazzo Reale. The Uffizi and Florence’s other leading museums have been criticised by the Milanese authorities and the media for refusing to loan the work to the largest Leonardo exhibition in Italy’s history, which is due to open on 15 April (until 19 July) and forms part of the programme for the Milan Expo 2015.

The refusal prompted Giuliano Pisapia, Milan’s mayor, to call on Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister of culture, to enforce the loan, but Franceschini decided not to interfere after Antonio Natali, the director of the Uffizi, sent him a list of 28 works that are going on loan from the institution’s collection to various Milanese museums this year. The list includes masterpieces such as Botticelli’s Pallade e il Centauro, 1482-83, and Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Adorazione di Magi Tornabuoni, 1487, as well as works by Giovanni Bellini, Peter Paul Rubens, Antonello da Messina, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Giotto. Natali says: “It’s sad to hear people say that we haven’t been playing our part; I think we’ve been very generous.”

Leonardo’s Annunciation is among the 23 works that the Uffizi decided in 2008 not to lend to other institutions, foreign or Italian.

To counter the negative publicity in the Italian media, the central press office for Florence’s museums has released a full list of loans, including those from the Uffizi, that are going to institutions in Milan and the nearby towns of Verona and Monza. Of the 78 works—from paintings and sculptures to drawings, silver, majolica and tapestries—that have been requested from eight of Florence’s top museums, including the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, the Museo Nazionale del Bargello and the Galleria dell’Accademia, 56 have already been approved, and more are expected to be approved soon. The list also includes Titian’s Portrait of Ippolito de’ Medici, 1532-33, from the Galleria Palatina, and three works by Giotto and his workshop that are held in the orangery in the city’s Parco Corsini.

Keeping visitors happy

“The Annunciation is one of only two paintings attributed to Leonardo alone that the Uffizi has, and his Adoration of the Magi is under restoration at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, so the museum would have remained without a full work by Leonardo for months,” Natali says. “People come here from all over the world to see specific works: we can’t leave them completely empty-handed.”

Concerns about disappointed visitors at the Uffizi, combined with conservation and security issues, prompted Natali to draw up the list of 23 works that could not be lent. The move took place after the Uffizi’s much-contested loan of Leonardo’s Annunciation to Tokyo’s National Museum in 2007, which went ahead on the orders of the then culture minister Francesco Rutelli, despite Natali’s objections. The list includes Botticelli’s Primavera, around 1482, and the Birth of Venus, 1482-85.

Milan gears up for its biggest ever Leonardo show

“Leonardo 1452-1519” at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, which is due to run from 15 April until 19 July, is the biggest exhibition devoted to the artist in Italy’s history. Some of the work on display is on loan from major foreign museums

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate, also known as the Dreyfus Madonna, 1475-80, is coming from the US. The work has been attributed to Leonardo but also to his contemporary Lorenzo di Credi. They were both trained by Andrea del Verrocchio.

The Louvre, Paris

The museum has lent Annunciation, 1478-85, which is generally attributed to Leonardo, and St John the Baptist, 1513-16. La Belle Ferronière, 1495-99, is also on the loans list, although it is undergoing restoration, so the loan has not yet been confirmed.

The Royal Library at Windsor, Berkshire, UK

A total of 30 drawings, all signed by Leonardo, are on loan from the Royal Collection Trust, including Study for the Head of Leda, around 1506.

New approach to museum policy

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister of culture, says that he is “respectful of the choices of museum directors” and that “politics should not interfere with their expertise”, marking a distinct change of tone in Italy’s museum policy, where political interference is common, if not expected (one example is his predecessor’s decision to send Leonardo’s Annunciation to Tokyo on loan, despite protests from many of Italy’s museum professionals). This attitude is in line with the ministry’s current overhaul of Italy’s top 20 public museums, which will be led by managers, rather than art historians, and will have greater independence from the state. “What’s important here is not whether the minister thought I was right or not,” the Uffizi’s Antonio Natali says, “but that this decision reflects the ministry’s new ideological position on these matters.”