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France and Italy set aside tensions to honour Da Vinci on 500th anniversary

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By Sandrine Amiel  with Reuters
Macron and Mattarella in Amboise France, May 2, 2019
Macron and Mattarella in Amboise France, May 2, 2019   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella are gathering in Amboise, in the French Loire Valley on Thursday (May 2), to commemorate Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th anniversary.

The two leaders will visit Leonardo’s tomb, a modest grave in a chapel of Amboise castle containing his presumed remains, and his house nearby, the Clos Luce, where the Renaissance master died on May 2nd, 1519.

“It’s an extremely solemn gesture, showing that the two countries have this shared memory, this figure, a culture that binds our two countries,” the director of Amboise Castle Jean-Louis Sureau said.

The visit comes amid diplomatic tensions among two normally close allies, mostly over migration policy.

Da Vinci's legacy itself has become contentious for France and Italy. Italy’s Culture undersecretary Lucia Borgonzoni said in November that she wanted to renegotiate the planned lending of his works to the Louvre for an anniversary exhibition, because “the French cannot have it all”.

But this Thursday, Rome and Paris are setting aside recent tensions to honour the memory of the Renaissance genius in the town where he spent his final years.

In 1516, aged 64, Leonardo da Vinci left Italy to enter the service of King Francis I of France. Many of his masterpieces - St. John the Baptist, the Mona Lisa - followed him and were sold to the French monarch, forming a legacy now exhibited at the Louvre museum in Paris.

During his three years in France, da Vinci focused on perfecting unfinished masterpieces, drawing and scientific writing, but also took part in organising lavish parties for the King of France.

“This universal man, who, to be clear, was first and foremost Italian, can also be seen as the symbol of European culture, built beyond traditional divisions,” Catherine Simon Marion, delegate general of the Clos Luce, said.