Louvre marks da Vinci's 500th death anniversary

The Leonardo da Vinci painting, Saint Jerome Praying In The Wilderness, on display at the Louvre Museum on Sunday.
The Leonardo da Vinci painting, Saint Jerome Praying In The Wilderness, on display at the Louvre Museum on Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • No institution in the world owns more Leonardo da Vincis than the Louvre Museum in Paris.

There are five paintings in its collections - including, most famously, the Mona Lisa, which the Renaissance artist had with him, along with two other masterpieces, when he died in France in 1519.

To mark the 500th anniversary of da Vinci's death, the Louvre is staging a retrospective featuring about 160 works. The blockbuster exhibition, which opens tomorrow and runs until Feb 24 next year, is one of the most ambitious surveys of the artist's work.

On display are eight paintings by da Vinci - plus the Mona Lisa, which remains in her usual gallery upstairs, but can be seen with the same exhibition ticket.

The exhibition also contains 22 drawings from the Louvre's own collection and paintings and drawings from institutions such as the Vatican Museums, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Royal Collection and the National Gallery in Britain, the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Objects drawn from private collections include the Codex Leicester, a set of scientific writings owned by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Securing the da Vinci loans has been a complicated and sometimes rancorous process.

Last year, the governments of France and Italy fell out over the Renaissance master. Italy's undersecretary for culture at the time, Ms Lucia Borgonzoni, questioned plans to lend multiple works during the anniversary year and accused France of treating Italy like a cultural "supermarket".

The two sides resumed talks shortly afterwards and a list of da Vincis travelling from Italy was announced last month.

One star on the list nearly did not make it to the Louvre: da Vinci's Vitruvian Man drawing of a spread-eagled male figure was briefly held back when the heritage conservation group Italia Nostra tried to block its loan in a last-minute court action, on the grounds that it was too fragile to travel.

The court threw out the case last week, allowing the drawing to be shown for eight weeks.

The Louvre is still hoping for another work it has asked for: Salvator Mundi, attributed to da Vinci, which sold for US$450.3 million at Christie's in November 2017.

That sale made it the world's most expensive artwork sold at auction, but it has not been seen since.

The painting's anonymous buyer is a close ally of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and may have acted on his behalf.

The works on display at the Louvre will be grouped in four sections that reveal da Vinci's artistic progression - through his drawings and paintings, but also through copies of his works by others, which offer useful snapshots of his artistic career.

The mission is to "give a different image of Leonardo", said one of the exhibition's two curators Vincent Delieuvin, challenging the perception that he was someone "who lived a somewhat dispersed life, dabbling in mathematics, geometry, anatomy and, every now and again, painting".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'Louvre marks da Vinci's 500th death anniversary'. Print Edition | Subscribe