The Hermitage will show in Italy one of its most valuable works “The Benois Madonna” by Leonardo da Vinci

The Hermitage will show in Italy one of its most valuable works “The Benois Madonna” by Leonardo da Vinci
14 May 2019, Tuesday
The Art Newspaper Russia

The real struggle unfolded for the opportunity to receive for temporary use the works of Leonardo da Vinci for the 500th anniversary of his death.


The Italian town of Fabriano, with a population of only 30 thousand people, will receive from Russia for temporary use one of the most important canvases by Leonardo da Vinci. The State Hermitage Museum promised to borrow the Benois Madonna (1478–1480), one of the most valuable works in its collection, to a museum in the city of Fabriano, located in the Marche region in central Italy.


Less than 20 works, undoubtedly attributed to Leonardo’s brushes, have come down to us, so the real struggle has unfolded for the opportunity to get a master’s work on the 500th anniversary of his death (May 2, 1519). The decision to send the Benois Madonna to Fabriano is of a diplomatic nature: from 10 to 15 June there will be a UNESCO conference devoted to “creative cities”, in which delegations from 180 countries will take part. The painting will be exhibited in the Bruno Molioli Municipal Pinakothek from June 1 to 30. After Fabriano, she will go to Perugia for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Umbria from July 4 to August 4.


There is a legend that stray Italian musicians brought the Madonna Benoit to Russia, although in fact its acquisition was most likely the result of a regular deal in the 1790s. It is known that in 1908 the painting was owned by the Benois family in St. Petersburg, and six years later it was bought by Nicholas II, who paid the amount corresponding to the modern £ 300,000 for it - until the 1960s it remained the record price of the work art in real monetary terms.


In addition, the Hermitage promised to lend Italy another work by Leonardo from his collection - Madonna Litta will become the central exhibit at the exhibition “Leonardo. "Madonna Litta" and the artist's workshop in the Milan Museum Poldi-Pezzoli (November 8, 2019 - February 10, 2020). Written in 1490–1492 in Milan, the picture remained in the city until 1865, when Alexander II purchased it from the Litt family.


The Hermitage’s curators are confident that Madonna Litta is entirely owned by Leonardo, but there are many art critics who disagree with them and believe that one of his students painted the painting, most likely Marco d’Odzhono or Giovanni Boltraffio. In 2011, when the work was exhibited at the National Gallery in London, the Hermitage demanded that its description in the exhibition catalog be written by the St. Petersburg curator Tatyana Kustodiyeva. She called the painting the original by Leonardo da Vinci and “the most valuable treasure of the Hermitage”, which caused an ambiguous reaction in art history circles.


In the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum in Milan, the Madonna Litta is likely to be presented as a Leonardo original. Paired to her will be another work from the collection of the Litta family - "Madonna of the Rose" (about 1490) Boltraffio. The museum promises that the exhibition will help to understand "the relationship between Leonardo and his students."

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