October 19, 2010

Is Michelangelo’s David owned by Florence or by Italy?

Posted at 8:05 pm in Similar cases

Although they are not necessarily as high profile as international cultural property disputes, there are many intra-national cases where the both parties involved in the dispute are in the same country. Why this particular dispute has suddenly erupted now probably has a lot more to do with the politics of Berlusconi, along with a need for Rome to exert ownership of the who country than it does about the actual location where Michelangelo’s David is displayed (which as far as I am aware, is not being disputed).

The Guardian

Italian government battles with Florence for Michelangelo’s David
Government lawyers produce nine page document as ‘conclusive’ proof that the sculpture belongs to the state
Tom Kington
Sunday 15 August 2010 21.22 BST

A fierce row has erupted over the ownership of Michelangelo’s David between the Italian state and Florence, the city where the masterpiece is on display.

A symbol of the Florentine Republic’s defiance of its enemies, including Rome, when erected in 1504 at the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall, Michelangelo’s portrayal of the slayer of Goliath has remained a mascot for proud locals long after the unification of Italy.

But after delving into centuries-old archives, two lawyers commissioned by the government of Silvio Berlusconi have produced what they call conclusive evidence that the renaissance masterpiece belongs not to Florence, but to the Italian state.

In a country where local loyalties often triumph over national pride, the reaction in Florence was fast and furious, starting with the mayor. “With all due respect to Roman lawyers,” said Matteo Renzi, “the unquestioned documents in the possession of the city and the state are clear: David belongs to Florence.”

In a nine-page document, the legal team from Rome argues that the state of Italy, not the city of Florence, is the legal successor to the Florentine Republic, which funded the purchase of the sinuous, sling-bearing David that Michelangelo daringly carved from an awkwardly sized block of Carrara marble that had lain unused in Florence for decades.

Claiming that the lawyers in Rome had “nothing better to do in August” than seize statues, Renzi cited his own historical research. “When Rome became the capital of Italy, a decree in 1870-1 assigned Palazzo Vecchio and all it contained to Florence, including David,” he said. “David is ours, that is what the documents state.”

Not according to the lawyers, who note that the paperwork related to the handover of the palazzo makes no mention of David “even though by this time it had acquired an enormous symbolic value”. Additionally, when David was put on display at Florence’s Accademia gallery in 1873, the city asserted no rights to the sculpture. A year later, the report adds, the then mayor of Florence even claimed David belonged to the Italian government when he billed Rome for the cost of moving it.

Renzi, a rising star of the Italian centre-left said he was unswayed and would demand a face-to-face meeting with culture minister, Sandro Bondi, a published poet who has dedicated some of his work to Silvio Berlusconi.

After surviving an attack in 1991 from a hammer-wielding visitor who damaged toes, before it benefitted from restoration work in 2003, David is today worth €8m (£6.5m) in annual ticket sales, which to Renzi’s irritation is pocketed by the government, along with revenue from other Florence museums including the Uffizi Gallery, for a total of €30m according to Italian daily La Repubblica. The government has meanwhile failed to make good on repeated promises to provide special funding to protect Florence’s heritage, the mayor claimed.

Earlier this month, Renzi said he would bill Rome for the scrubbing off of graffiti left by bored tourists waiting in the long queues to see Florence’s collection of renaissance marvels. “The state takes the money from the visits to the Uffizi and to see David but does not clean up. The city is entitled to be cleaned,” he said.

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