Italian Senator Chains Himself to Museum

The Associated Press
Monday, March 12, 2007; 2:06 PM

FLORENCE, Italy -- An Italian senator chained himself to a column near the gates of the Uffizi museum Monday to protest the loan of Leonardo da Vinci's "Annunciation" for a show at Japan's National Museum in Tokyo.

The "Annunciation" is one of Leonardo's early works, painted between 1472-1475 when the master was in his early 20s. It depicts the archangel Gabriel revealing to the Virgin Mary that she is pregnant.

The 15th-century masterpiece will be shown in Tokyo from March 20 through June 17 as part of "Italian Spring," a series of events promoting Italian culture and products.

In protesting the loan, Sen. Paolo Amato said it exposes a priceless masterpiece to unnecessary risk and belittles its significance by using it in a commercial event.

Inside the museum, the 6 1/2-foot-by-3-foot painting was being bundled in three protective crates filled with shock-absorbers and high-tech sensors to monitor humidity, temperatures and stress levels in preparation for departure Tuesday.

The case has stirred up controversy in the Italian art world, where conflicts over the management of the country's cultural treasures are frequent and loans of masterpieces to foreign countries are a known anxiety factor.

Art historians and intellectuals from Florence, including filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, have signed a petition asking Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli to cancel the loan. "Rutelli, leave Florence alone," read a banner held up Monday by a few protesters.

"We cannot deprive the Uffizi museum of such an important painting," Amato told AP Television News on Monday, as he was chained near the Uffizi. "There is a section dedicated to the young Leonardo with three artworks and the 'Annunciation' is one of these. If you remove it, it's impossible to understand the meaning of the section."

A top official at the Florence museum, Cristina Acidini, defended the move.

"From the point of view of preservation, technicians said there is no reason to deny the loan," she said.

Acidini also said the box the painting was traveling in was safe and equipped with special sensors that signal alterations in the conditions or internal crashes. The system has to be switched off during the flight but can be used to monitor the painting during road transportation, Acidini said.

© 2007 The Associated Press