Louvre blockbuster: Honoring Leonardo da Vinci 500 years on
Outside the Louvre museum. /VCG Photo

Outside the Louvre museum. /VCG Photo

A blockbuster retrospective of Leonardo da Vinci opens Thursday at the Louvre museum to mark 500 years since the death of the Renaissance master in the historic town of Amboise, France.

Nearly 200,000 people have already reserved their place in line for the exhibition, the biggest ever organized to showcase the Tuscan polymath's indelible contributions to humanity – with an emphasis on his painting.  

A decade in the planning, the show titled "Leonardo da Vinci" groups 162 works, including 24 drawings loaned by Queen Elizabeth II of Britain from the Royal Collection.

The British Museum, the Hermitage of Saint Petersburg and the Vatican have also contributed, as well as, of course, Italy – after a sometimes acrimonious tug-of-war between Rome and Paris over the loans. 

The exhibition in the Hall Napoleon features 11 of the fewer than 20 paintings definitively attributed to the Renaissance master, as well as drawings, manuscripts, sculptures and other objets d'art. 

The show walks the visitor through the timeline of the master's peripatetic life under the tutelage of dukes, princes and kings, from Florence to Milan, Venice and Rome, and finally France, where he spent the last three years of his life.

Visitors at the Louvre museum. /VCG Photo

Visitors at the Louvre museum. /VCG Photo

 The Vitruvian Man

The final act in the row between Paris and Rome over Italy's contributions to the show came with a last-minute legal effort to halt the loan of the iconic Vitruvian Man drawing. 

Last week, an Italian court rejected a bid by an association advocating for the protection of Italy's heritage – Italia Nostra (Our Italy) – to block the loan of the work dating from the late 15th century, arguing that it was too fragile to travel. 

A spat over Italy's contributions to the Louvre show erupted late last year when the new populist rulers in Rome took issue with the previous government's agreement with Paris.  

Lucia Borgonzoni, from Italy's culture ministry and a member of the anti-immigration League party, argued that the accord was lopsided in favor of France. 

At the height of the row, it appeared that Italy would cancel the accord altogether. It was finally resolved with Paris pledging to loan several Raphaels to Rome next year, the quincentenary of that artist's death. 

The Vitruvian Man – which Italian media say is insured for at least one billion euros – joined the Louvre show with just days to spare before the opening. It will stay only eight weeks rather than the full four months. 

The drawing, kept in a climate-controlled vault in the Accademia Gallery in Venice, is rarely displayed to the public.  

The exhibition curated by the Louvre's Vincent Delieuvin and Louis Frank, the heads of the museum's painting and graphic arts departments, includes infrared reflectographs that offer an insight into the master painter's techniques.

(With input from AFP)