National Gallery 'too insecure' for Leonardo da Vinci
After security breach, Polish prince reconsiders lending 'Lady with an Ermine' for major exhibition. Matthew Bell reports
Sunday 24 July 2011
Gazing into the middle distance, the faintest hint of a smile on her lips, Cecilia Gallerani is a picture of civility. But 500 years after the Duke of Milan's mistress was immortalised by Leonardo da Vinci as the Lady with an Ermine, she is causing major embarrassment for the National Gallery, as the portrait's owners question whether the museum can be trusted to look after her.
The 15th-century masterpiece, considered by experts to be as important as the Mona Lisa, is due to appear in London in November as part of a major exhibition of Leonardo's work. Curators are billing the blockbuster, which is selling out, as "the most complete display of Leonardo's rare surviving paintings ever held". Seven works have been loaned from around the world.
But after an appalling breach of security at the National Gallery last weekend, when a vandal daubed two paintings by Poussin with red paint, the Polish prince who owns the painting is reconsidering its loan. Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski, who is a first cousin of the King of Spain, inherited the work in 1991, and immediately founded the Czartoryski Foundation to safeguard its future. Lady with an Ermine usually hangs in the foundation's museum in Krakow.
Two weeks ago, the prince sensationally dismissed the trust's entire board, including his first cousin, the London-based historian Count Adam Zamoyski. It is understood the prince felt he was losing control of the trust.
Olga Jaros, who took over as chairman of the foundation, confirmed that a decision had yet to be made, and that a contract has yet to be signed with the National Gallery. "In the light of what happened last weekend at the National Gallery, I have informed the foundation what has happened. We are still in negotiations."
Even before Saturday's attack, concerns had been voiced over the painting's hectic schedule. It is at present on loan to the Palacio Real in Madrid for an exhibition of Polish art treasures. It is then scheduled to visit Berlin before travelling to London.
Last November, when the loan to the National Gallery was announced, leading Polish art historians appealed for the painting not to travel. Joanna Daranowska-Lukaszewska, of the Association of Art Historians, wrote a letter saying that, although the picture is insured for ¤300m, "in the event of a disaster, no one would be able to restore this priceless masterpiece ... Lady with an Ermine is the common property of the whole cultural world." Ms Jaros confirmed that the painting is extremely fragile.
The exhibition in November will in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. To avoid over-crowding, only 180 visitors will be allowed in every 30 minutes. Lady with an Ermine always sits in a protective glass-fronted case. However, cuts at the gallery have brought reductions in staff numbers, and some now have to monitor two rooms.
On Friday, a 57-year-old man was detained under the Mental Health Act following the vandalism of the Poussins. A spokesman for the National Gallery played down suggestions that Lady with an Ermine might not be loaned to London.
"In regard to the Cecilia Gallerani painting, there is no change," she said. "The National Gallery is very pleased to work with Olga Jaros, the newly appointed chairwoman of the Czartoryski Foundation, on the loan painting of Lady with an Ermine.
"The security of the collection is of paramount concern to the National Gallery. The gallery's security arrangements are in keeping with those of other major national and international galleries and museums. Our arrangements have been approved by the National Security Advisor for museums as appropriate for the protection of the collection."
Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, never leaves the Louvre in Paris.
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
- 5 Winnie the Pooh banned from Polish playground for being 'inappropriate hermaphrodite'
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
Willow and Jaden Smith talk duality of apples, holographic realities and the melancholia of the ocean in incredible New York Times interview
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Muslims pre-date Columbus in discovering America,' says Turkish president Erdogan
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'