There's so much contention in the world, arguing looks to be our way of life. Even centuries-old issues go pleading for resolution. Consider this one between Italy and France.

Crying foul

At first, the Italian government balked at loaning anything to the Louvre for a retrospective honoring the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death. The museum owns five of his works, Mona Lisa numbering among them, and seeks others by the artist including two paintings held in his hometown museum, the Uffizi in Florence. Was the balk retribution?

Resentment lives

In 2012 the Independent, a British online newspaper, reported Italy's assertion that Mona Lisa belongs in his “home city,” not in Paris, and petitioned the Louvre with 150,000 signatures. The effort went nowhere, even after the director of the Uffizi, Eike Schmidt, threatened resignation. Now, the Art Newspaper reports that Italy has changed its mind and culture minister Alberto Bonisoli told his French counterpart, Franck Riester, he was “ready to help France.” And why not? After all, didn't the Louvre lend work for Milan Expo in 2015, and pledge to help Rome with its Raphael show next year?

Legitimate sale

Still, the contention that the Mona Lisa belongs to Italy hangs in the air. Even George Clooney backed the claim in 2014 during the promotional tour for his film The Monument Men. How legitimate is the claim? It's a matter of record that the portrait has been in France for the last 501 years, when Da Vinci died there, the portrait in hand, and his beloved assistant Salai, who inherited the work, sold it to the king. Francis I for 4,000 gold coins. How can Italy argue this?

Money talks

Perhaps it's the portrait's track record at the Louvre. Mona Lisa is the biggest draw in the art world. ArtNet reports visitors to the Louvre last year soared past 10 million. classing the Louvre “the most well=attended museum on the planet.” The portrait also holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest insurance valuation ($650 million in 2018).

Making history

And if we're talking about records, shouldn't history be the final arbiter?

In 2016, the Italian Tribune noted that when Da Vinci moved to France at the invitation of Francis I with the Mona Lisa and died there, the king hung his purchase at his palace at Fontainebleau. Then, when King Louis XIV came after, it got moved to his palace at Versailles. The final resting place for the painting came after the French Revolution when the painting got moved to the Louvre. All of which makes French ownership as solid as the rocks of the Pyrenees.

Fair's fair

But wait, there's yet another reason why France can claim the Mona Lisa. As I reported at the start of this month, a new Book “The Da Vinci Legacy” by Jean-Pierre Isbouts and Christopher Heath-Brown noted that the painter 'died in relative obscurity” because Italy exiled him for a crime against a teenage boy. Not to argue the merits of that case, you can't boot a painter out of your country and then claim his work for your own.

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