Back out of the vault: secret life of the skull

Hirst's £50m creation is on display again. But where for the love of God has it been hiding?

With a 2007 price tag of £50m it was the most expensive work ever offered for sale by a living artist.

But for most of its short existence For the Love of God, Damien Hirst's controversial platinum-plated, diamond-encrusted human skull, has languished unseen in a secret high-security vault. Too costly to go on show, it has become a prisoner of its own outlandish worth.

For the next five months however art lovers and devotees of the "super-bling" culture it came to represent will be given the chance to enjoy a rare audience with the piece at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence for the relatively bargain basement price of €10 (£8.50). There it will be attended 24 hours a day by three armed guards. So far the only challenge has come from the critics who have taken issue with the city's culture councillor Giuliano da Empoli over his decision to bring the piece to Florence, where 230,000 people are expected to see it.

One prominent opponent, the critic Achille Bonito Oliva, complained that the skull would "corrupt the taste of the public". But Mr Da Empoli praised the artist and said the exhibition was "not costing the city a lira". Florence's Mayor Matteo Renzi said he too was unfazed by sniping. "In fact I can't recall a time when Florence wasn't at the centre of controversy, beginning with the witch-hunt against Dante Alighieri. I only know that inside one of our most precious places will be exhibited one of the most important works in contemporary art. That some people might not like it as a matter of personal taste is not disputed. But this is an important attempt to connect Florence with the contemporary world," he said.

Until this week For the Love of God had only been displayed twice in public before. In 2007, it was unveiled to a startled world at the White Cube gallery in London.

The following year it received a second outing at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. On both occasions it was surrounded by considerable security and plans to take it on a global tour taking in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, the British Museum in London and the Far East were shelved. Hopes raised in 2009 that it might find a home in London also appear to have been dashed. All costs for the current exhibition – including insurance, security, transportation and installation fees – are being met by Arthemisia Group, a commercial company that organises shows in Italy. Neither Hirst nor his London gallery White Cube will receive a fee according to Arthemisia which has even promised to pay the city €700,000 based on projected ticket sales.

Hirst described his unease at his most notorious work being shut away for so long when news of the Italian show was announced. "You feel like your life is ticking away while it's in the vault. You think objects like that were made in the past by emperors and kings and things like that. You don't want them in vaults you want them out there so people can see them," Hirst told CNN.

The world's richest living artist has admitted that it was "crazy" to have made an object that he couldn't keep in his own house. Yesterday, White Cube refused to discuss point blank where the skull had been residing. The skull was bought two months after it was first displayed by a consortium of investors said to include the Ukrainian collector Victor Pinchuk, as well as the White Cube's Jay Jopling and Hirst himself, who retained a stake.

The New York-based art collector Alberto Mugrabi, whose family already owns 110 Hirst originals, is said to have offered $35m (£22m) for the skull – still a considerable mark up on the £14m it is estimated to have cost to buy the raw materials of 8,601 ethically sourced diamonds (including one large pink rock costing £4m), the platinum and 18th-century skull. A reported offer by the singer George Michael also came to naught.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence