For Italy’s pop­ulists, even Leonardo da Vinci is a na­tion­al­ist cause

The Island Packet (Sunday) - - News - BY JA­SON HOROWITZ

In a small show­room filled with repli­cas of Leonardo da Vinci mas­ter­pieces, Lu­cia Bor­gonzoni, Italy’s un­der­sec­re­tary for cul­ture and a mem­ber of the right-wing League party, at­tested to the au­then­tic­ity of her dis­gust with the French.

She ac­cused France of try­ing to cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate Leonardo for a 2019 ex­hi­bi­tion at the Lou­vre cel­e­brat­ing the 500th an­niver­sary of his death. And that was just the be­gin­ning.

France had treated Italy with “a lack of re­spect” and like a cul­tural “su­per­mar­ket” by “send­ing a shop­ping list” of the works it wanted to bor­row – es­sen­tially ev­ery­thing.

“Prob­a­bly no other coun­try would dare” to be­have as France had, she said, warm­ing to the topic as she faced a fake Mona Lisa in the Leonardo da Vinci Ex­pe­ri­ence mu­seum near the Vat­i­can. She pe­rused re­pro­duc­tions of Vitru­vian Man and the An­nun­ci­a­tion. “Let’s give them th­ese,” she said with a laugh.

Not much has been off lim­its as Bor­gonzoni’s hard-right League party pushes its “Ital­ians First” agenda. Ital­ian­women are en­cour­aged to have more ba­bies. Migrants are shown the door. Mat­teo Salvini, the party leader, fills his so­cial me­dia feeds with posts about Ital­ian pasta and wine.

Na­tion­al­ism – taboo for half a cen­tury fol­low­ing World War II and the fall of Mus­solini – is sud­denly in, as ev­ery pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal dis­pute is cast in chau­vin­ist hues. Cul­ture had long been a rel­a­tively neu­tral ter­rain. Not any­more. And de­lib­er­ately so.

“Be­ing from the League, it’s our way of see­ing the coun­try, the so­ci­ety and the world,” Bor­gonzoni said of the party’s Ital­ians First play­book.

When it comes to Leonardo, the re­sult is ei­ther an in­el­e­gant and am­a­teur­ish faux pas, as her crit­ics con­tend, or a po­lit­i­cal mas­ter­stroke be­fore Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in May. Ei­ther way, Bor­gonzoni has helped her party es­ca­late ten­sions with France ata­mo­ment when Europe is al­ready un­der­go­ing a dra­matic po­lit­i­cal re­align­ment.

Along with the bu­reau­crats in Brus­sels, pro-Eu­ro­pean French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has been the tar­get par ex­cel­lence of an Ital­ian pop­ulist govern­ment that has re­peat­edly picked, and won, po­lit­i­cal fights on ev­ery­thing from mi­gra­tion to trade.

“Surely our states are hav­ing amo­ment, not only in cul­ture, of fric­tion,” said Bor­gonzoni, the grand­daugh­ter of an Ital­ian pain­ter who worked briefly as an artist and in­te­rior de­signer. “Surely the fact that Europe is go­ing to vote next year has raised the ten­sion” on a range of is­sues in­clud­ing, now, Leonardo.

Born in 1452 out­side Vinci, cen­turies be­fore the cre­ation of the Ital­ian state, Leonardo grew up in Florence, lived in Mi­lan and stopped off in Rome be­fore mov­ing to France, where he died and was buried. King Fran­cis I of France ac­quired the Mona Lisa from one of his heirs and it hangs in the Lou­vre, which has more Leonardo paint­ings than any other mu­seum.

In ex­change for the “shop­ping list” of works it wanted from Italy, Bor­gonzoni said, the Lou­vre failed to make con­crete of­fers for a Rome ex­hibit in 2020 com­mem­o­rat­ing the 500th an­niver­sary of the death of Raphael.


Lu­cia Bor­gonzoni, Italy’s un­der­sec­re­tary for cul­ture, ac­cuses France of try­ing to ap­pro­pri­ate Leonardo for a 2019 ex­hi­bi­tion at the Lou­vre cel­e­brat­ing the 500th an­niver­sary of his death. And that was just the be­gin­ning.

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