| A restoration curator works on David in Florence. (AFP)
Florence, Aug. 3: Michelangelo’s statue of David, already at the centre of a restoration row, is caught up in a new controversy after Florence claimed that it — and not the Italian state — was the sculpture’s rightful owner.
Leonardo Domenici, the Left-wing mayor, said the city had instructed solicitors to prepare a formal claim to David, a huge tourist attraction which Florence wants to manage, and profit from, itself.
But the council’s real motives appear to be more about politics than money, and the latest shot to be fired at the state from Tuscany, an independent-minded region that has never really accepted the concept of a united Italy.
Although if it won its claim, Florence would reimburse Italy for what had been spent on David, the mayor said it would also expect to be repaid what the state had earned in ent- rance fees. “We’ll sit down and work out the costs, and then deduct the earnings,” Dom- enici said.
He suggested that the statue, cleaning of which has been delayed because of a row between experts over the best method to use, could remain in the state-owned Accademia gallery. But what the city really wanted, he underlined, was “to manage a heritage that is ours”.
Florence had a good case, he said. “In 1871, the state gave Palazzo Vecchio (now city hall), complete with all its contents and appurtenances, including the works of art outside in Piazza Signoria, to the Florence commune. When the statue was moved inside the Accademia in 1873, it was to protect it. But the city never relinquished ownership.”
The mayor said he expected fierce resistance from the local state fine art establishment, whose “conservativism and ineptitude” were hampering the city’s development.
Florence’s claim comes amid proposed legislation by the Tuscan regional council to take control of its local artistic heritage from the state, a move that is disconcerting local representatives of the state art world.
On Friday, the state’s arts commissioner for Florence, Antonio Paolucci, dismissed the mayor’s arguments. “That David belongs to Palazzo Vecchio is something that can be read in any guidebook to Florence,” he said.
“It was bought by a ‘mayor’ of the city from Michelangelo on completion in 1504. But for 130 years the state has looked after David and conserved it.”
He said he would strive to keep control of Florence’s heritage, if need be in the constitutional court, “fighting to the last”.
If the mayor wanted it, “then he should take it”, Paolucci said. “But he will have to create another Accademia. David is the patrimony of the whole country, so it will be our Stalingrad.”