An Italian court has blocked the loan of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Vitruvian Man sketch to the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The world famous artwork was due to appear later this month in an exhibition which will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.
It is part of a batch of works by Leonardo and Raphael that the Italian government had agreed to send to Paris.
But an Italian heritage group called Italia Nostra, or Our Italy, objected to the loan, saying that Vitruvian Man is too valuable and fragile to travel.
A regional administrative tribunal in the Veneto region, which encompasses Venice, on Tuesday upheld the objection and ordered the loan of all the masterpieces to be suspended.
The deal will be debated in greater depth by the tribunal at a meeting on October 16 – just over a week before the Louvre exhibition is due to start.
Hard-Right politicians welcomed the decision, saying that lending Leonardo’s most famous sketch to the French was “shameful”.
“We had criticised the loan of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man to the Louvre as unacceptable and shameful,” said Gaetano Nastri, a senator with Brothers of Italy, a small, far-Right party.
“Thanks to the regional administrative tribunal, this work by the Italian genius will remain in Italy.”
The sketch was a priceless expression of Italy’s “cultural roots and identity,” he said.
But the Italian culture ministry said the loan had been drawn up with total transparency and the ruling of the tribunal was “incomprehensible”.
The suspension of the deal is the latest twist in a long and convoluted process.
The loan was originally approved two years ago by a centre-Left government led by prime minister Paolo Gentiloni.
But after he left office in March last year it was cancelled by the populist coalition that consisted of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the hard-Right League party.
“Leonardo is Italian; he only died in France,” a junior culture minister said.
When the coalition imploded in August, to be replaced by a new, less abrasive alliance between Five Star and the centre-Left Democratic Party, the deal was revived.
It was seen as a sign of the reestablishment of warm relations between Rome and Paris after months of tensions stoked by the populists.
Now it appears the loan is off again, at least until October 16.
Vitruvian Man is normally kept in a climate-controlled vault in the Accademia Gallery in Venice and is put on public display only occasionally.