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At the heart of the controversy is Raphael’s oil on wood portrait of Pope Leo X c. 1517.

Raphael Exhibition Causes Stir

In a move that was wholly unexpected and without precedence, the entire scientific committee at Florence’s world-renowned Uffizi Gallery has resigned. The mass resignation was in protest of the gallery’s loan of a Raphael work for a landmark exhibition taking place in Rome to mark the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance master’s death.

The panel from the Uffizi said it had worked for months to draw up a list of works that should never be moved from the Florentine gallery and the portrait of Pope Leo X by Raphael was one of the priceless works of art specified. The famed portrait was specially restored for the show in the Eternal City by the experts at Florence’s restoration works Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

In a letter to the Board of the Uffizi, as well as the education ministry and the Florence city council, the four member scientific panel: Donata Levi, Tomaso Montanari, Fabrizio Moretti and Claudio Pizzorusso, said the Leo X portrait should never leave Florence. The letter also revealed that Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt had approved their decision over two months ago, banning the transfer of the work; however, the Uffizi director has since stated that the Leo X portrait was indispensable to the Rome exhibit. The portrait will be one of the centerpieces of the show, called simply “Raphael,” which opened today at the Scuderie del Qurinale. It will continue through June 2nd.

The scientific panel was incensed that they only found out about the transfer of the painting through the press after the work of art had already been shipped and placed in the Rome exhibition space. In a statement released to the press, the committee said, “Keeping us busy for months drafting lists which are then ignored undermines the very existence of the committee. The mass resignation of the scientific committee of Italy’s most important museum makes a rethink inevitable and a redefinition of the role of the scientific committees in the management of autonomous museums.”

The unprecedented exhibit on the works and influence of Raphael will crown global celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the death of the genius from Urbino. Over 70,000 tickets had already been booked or sold ahead of today’s opening. The show is the largest monographic exhibition of the Renaissance master, featuring over 200 masterpieces, including paintings and sketches, as well as comparison works. On exhibit are works that have never been gathered in the same place before.

A total of 52 art institutions have contributed to the show, which was organized after three years of studies and restoration work – including that of the portrait of Pope Leo X. The painting portrays the Pope with Cardinals Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici (the future Pope Clement VII) on his left and Luigi de’ Rossi, a maternal cousin to both men, on his right. It was painted at a time of great turmoil within the Catholic Church; on the heels of the publication of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, which began the Protestant Reformation. 

The exhibition also includes such masterpieces as the Madonna del Granduca and Woman with a Veil from the Uffizi; the Portrait of Baldassarre Castiglione and Self-Portrait with Friend from the Louvre and the Madonna of the Rose from the Prado. It is reported that the artwork in the exhibit has been insured for a record four billion euros. Visitors in Rome can also visit Raphael’s monumental tomb in the Pantheon, which is the subject of a separate feature in this week’s edition of the Italian Tribune.