Italy proceeds with masterpiece loan to Israel


ROME (JTA) — Italy has gone ahead with the loan of a 15th century masterpiece by Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli to Israel that had been held up over the uncertain situation in Syria.

The fresco was shipped to Israel under armed guard and will go on show at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on Tuesday as originally scheduled, officials said.

Italy was to have sent “Annunciation of San Martino alla Scala” to Israel at the beginning of September, to be shown for several months as part of celebrations for Israel’s 65th birthday. But an Italian Culture Ministry communique on Rosh Hashanah said that because of the current security situation regarding Syria, it was not the appropriate time to send the masterpiece.

Meir Bardugo, aide to Israeli Culture Minister Limor Livnat, said Sunday that the minister worked “behind the scenes intensively” to convince Italy that the work would be safe, according to The Associated Press.

Simonetta Della Seta, the director general of the Italy-Israel Foundation for Culture and Art, which organized the loan along with the Uffizi Gallery, told Italy’s ANSA news agency on Monday that the delay in shipping had not been due to the crisis in Syria and threat of U.S. airstrikes, as had been widely reported.

Instead, she said, the fresco had been in China and on its return had to undergo a battery of controls and checks.

“We were put in the hands of experts who underscored the necessity of a further control,” Della Seta said, adding that the experts had attempted to carry out their examination in time for the painting to be shipped as planned.

The Annunciation is a large fresco painted by Botticelli in 1481 on a wall at the hospital of San Martino alla Scala in Florence. It was removed from the wall in 1920 and transferred to the Uffizi, where it underwent restoration.

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