Leonardo Da Vinci’s Benois Madonna to make rare return to Italy

One of Leonardo Da Vinci's earliest paintings, the Benois Madonna, is to return to Italy next month for only the second time in 200 years, in honour of the artist's 500th anniversary.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Benois Madonna to make rare return to Italy
The Benois Madonna usually hangs in the Hermitage Museum. Photo: chrisdorney/DepositPhotos

Also known as the Madonna and Child with Flowers, the painting will go on display in two museums in central Italy for a total of two months.

The picture is on loan from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, where it has hung for most of the past 100 years. Bought by a Russian collector in the late 18th century, since then it has returned to Italy just once before, for an exhibition at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in 1984.

READ ALSO: In the footsteps of genius: A travel guide to Leonardo Da Vinci's Italy

While most would expect the star exhibit to go on show in one of Italy's biggest museums, it will instead hang in the town art gallery in Fabriano, a small city in the Marche region, from June 1st-30th, before moving to the Umbrian National Gallery in Perugia for the month of July.

The surprising choice is partly to coincide with a meeting of Unesco's 'Creative Cities' network taking place in Fabriano in June, but also because “in Italy there are no towns that aren't worthy of hosting great works of art, dotted as it is with villages that house unique artistic treasures”, commented the Hermitage's director, Mikhail Piotrovsky.

The museum is keen to give Italians “the chance to see the work of the world's greatest artists back at home”, he said.

Leonardo is thought to have been around 25 when he painted the intimate portrait, which measures just 49.5 by 33 centimetres. It shows the infant Jesus absorbed by a sprig of flowers held out to him by his mother in a touchingly realistic moment.

It is believed to be one of the first works that Leonardo composed and painted on his own without the guidance of his master, the Florentine painter and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. Several other artists subsequently copied the scene, most famously Raphael in his Madonna of the Pinks. 

The Benois Madonna gets its name from the Russian family who sold it to the Hermitage in 1914. The story goes that they purchased it from a troupe of Italian circus performers, though a more likely account says that they bought it at auction from the estate of art collector Alexei Korsakov, who is believed to have brought it to Russia from Italy in the 1790s.

The exhibition is one of hundreds of special events in Italy throughout the year to mark the 500th anniversary of Da Vinci's death, on May 2nd 1519.


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La Bella Vita: Exploding myths about Italian food and how to make words smaller

From making sense of Italian grammar to understanding what's seen as 'authentic' Italian food, our weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Exploding myths about Italian food and how to make words smaller

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

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Everyone in Italy is talking about Italian food this week. Not unusual, I know. But this time, it’s mainly because the government has announced plans to put Italian food forward for Unesco intangible cultural heritage status. This led many people to ask exactly which dishes would be included in the bid – and how exactly do you define ‘Italian food’, anyway?

One highly influential and controversial contribution to this debate came in the form of an interview published in the Financial Times with Italian food historian Alberto Grandi, who “has dedicated his career to debunking the myths around Italian food”. In it, Grandi made bold claims including that panettone and tiramisù were postwar inventions which relied on industrial processes or ingredients; carbonara is more American than Italian; and pizza was unknown in most parts of Italy before the 1970s.

It’s safe to say these ideas didn’t go down well at all with most Italians. In the below article, reporter Silvia Marchetti explains why the interview caused such a big public outcry and why she believes such claims ignore “millennia of rich food heritage”.

Why claims Italian cuisine is a ‘modern invention’ have angered Italy

Whatever you think of Grandi’s argument that the popular idea of Italian cuisine today is based chiefly on postwar advertising and political propaganda, there’s one thing everyone can probably agree on: there really are an awful lot of misconceptions out there about what constitutes traditional or authentic Italian cuisine.

Here are a few such ideas that you’ve probably encountered, and a look at why they can be safely discarded:

Four myths about ‘traditional’ Italian food you can stop believing

Neapolitan pizza. Is there any truth to claims that pizza was unknown in most of Italy until the 1970s? Photo by Nik Owens on Unsplash

And if you’re in Italy at the moment, have you noticed that things feel a little different lately?

Not only are the days brighter, but once the temperatures rise over 15C towns and cities seem to burst back to life after being (slightly) quieter over winter. Aperitivo hour moves outside, there are more motorini zipping up and down the streets, and there’s a spring-cleaning frenzy as homes are cleaned from top to bottom and wardrobes overhauled in preparation for la bella stagione.

Here are some of the sure-fire signs that spring has arrived in Italy:

Eight signs that spring has arrived in Italy

Easter is coming up and it is of course a very important celebration in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, marked across the country by countless processions and events, plenty of good food, and hopefully some good weather too. Here’s a rundown of everything to expect during an Italian Easter:

The essential guide to Easter in Italy

One thing that makes Italian such a beautiful – and complicated – language is the large number of different suffixes which tack on to the ending of words and change their meaning. A common type is the diminutive suffix, which is the type of word ending that makes a thing smaller, or maybe cuter (think gattino, libricino, or fiorellino).

But as pretty as they sound, these endings don’t always seem to have much logic behind them. Here’s what you need to know about ‘shrinking’ Italian words.

Etto, ino, ello: How to make Italian words smaller

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]