Da Vinci Masterpiece Heads To Paris For Display

By  //  October 20, 2019

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Leonardo da Vinci was Italian by birth, and spent most of his life in his home country, but he famously died in France.

Leonardo da Vinci was Italian by birth, and spent most of his life in his home country, but he famously died in France.

Now, five hundred years after one of the world’s greatest-ever painters, sculptors and thinkers took his final breath, one of his most famous works is headed to the Louvre for a special exhibition to mark the occasion.

It’s missed the precise date of the Renaissance master’s death – that was back in May – but only because the deal to transfer the art was delayed by political wrangling. 

There are many da Vinci pieces included in the swap deal that’s been agreed between Italy and France, but the most famous of them is the sketch known as ‘Vitruvian Man.’

Along with the Mona Lisa, and ‘The Last Supper’, its one of the most iconic and well-recognized of all da Vinci’s works.

The fact that it’s become so renowned and well-regarded would likely be a source of frustration and irritation for the polymath if he were still alive today – he never intended it to displayed anywhere, and mainly drew it for his own amusement. 

It is, perhaps, a testament to da Vinci’s enduring appeal that his artwork can cause a diplomatic incident between two major European nations so many years after his death.

He holds a reputation few other painters and artists could ever hope to match and may stake a claim to being the most famous and respected artists who ever lived. Such is his fame that there are even 21st-century casino slots named after him.

‘Da Vinci Diamonds,’ is just one of the mobile slots, which is joined by a companion game named ‘Diamonds by da Vinci.’ Art is a high-brow topic, and so it’s a surprise to see a painter referenced in a mobile slots game. Needless to say, no other artist living or dead has been afforded the same honor. 

When the da Vinci works have been safely received in Paris, they will go on display at the Louvre, which is planning what it describes as its largest-ever da Vinci exhibition.

Public interest in the display, which will begin on October 24 and continue until February 2020, is expected to be so high that the gallery will only allow admission to those who have made a reservation.

Many of the works which are to be included in the exhibition – ‘Vitruvian Man’ included – have not been on display for several years. Some haven’t been available to the public for decades. It promises to be one of the most significant exhibitions anywhere on the planet. 

Getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process for the Louvre, or the French government in general. Initially, an agreement in principle was struck between France and Italy back in2017 that allowed for the exhibition to happen.

In return for sending ‘Vitruvian Man’ and the other exhibits to Paris, Italy would receive a selection of the Louvre’s most exceptional works by Raphael. ‘Self Portrait With A Friend,’ and Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione’ were agreed upon as being among the works heading in the opposite direction.

Shortly after the agreement, though, the political atmosphere in both countries changed, and the deal was put in jeopardy. 

Lucia Borgonzoni, the Italian secretary for culture, was a particularly vocal opponent of the transfer taking place.

She felt that the language being used by the French government to describe her own country’s government had become disrespectful and that France had no claim on da Vinci’s works.

In her own words, she felt that da Vinci had ‘only died in France,’ and as he was a native Italian, sending his works out of the country was denigrating to the Italian collection. Italy, after all, was planning its own celebration of the artist’s life to commemorate the occasion. 

Fortunately, relations softened when Dario Franceschini replaced Borgonzoni in her role, but it still wasn’t until late September that the agreement was finalized. Italy is now understood to be particularly enthused about getting the Raphael works; they’ll hold on to them until 2020, and 2020 marks the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s own death. 

Despite its worldwide fame, there are still several mysteries that pertain to ‘Vitruvian Man.’

Some people believe that it may even be a self-portrait. Leonardo da Vinci didn’t draw himself frequently, but we know from historical records that in his youth he was a powerfully-built man with long hair which fell in curls.

There’s also a passing resemblance between the figure seen in the sketch, and a sculpture in Florence which is also believed to be a rendering of the artist. None of the multitude of written notes which surround the drawing lend any credence to this theory, however. 

Another school of thought says that da Vinci sketched the portrait based on a corpse. His interest in science meant that he was no stranger to corpses, and he’s known to have worked with them and sketched them in the past. This theory stems from the work of a surgical lecturer by the name of Hutan Ashrafian.

After studying the sketch carefully, Ashafian has concluded that the figure shows symptoms of an inguinal hernia – one so severe that it’s likely to have killed him.

If that were the case, it’s not impossible that da Vinci would have posed the body and manipulated it into several positions to assist with his sketches. That’s a new, grisly perspective on the piece. 

Whether it was a portrait of a dead man or a portrait of the great man himself is something we’ll likely never know.

What we can all agree on is that this is an exceptionally rare opportunity for people to go and see one of the world’s most famous works of art in person, and one which may not roll around again for several decades.

If you have plans to be in or around Paris toward the end of this year or the start of 2020, we heartily endorse the idea of making a reservation and taking advantage of this potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.