Center-right Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and center-left Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi are, perhaps unsurprisingly, not the closest of friends. What is surprising, however, is that the turf of their latest ideological battle is not politics but art history, with each man claiming that his government has control of Michelangelo’s towering “David” sculpture, on view at the Accademia gallery in Florence.
According to the Guardian, lawyers working for Berlusconi have produced a nine-page document claiming that when the city-states of Italy were united in the 19th century, ownership of the statue transferred to the national government. However, Renzi counters that a special decree was issued following unification that gave ownership of the Accademia to Florence, and he further points out that it was the Florentine Republic that commissioned the sculpture back in 1501.
Politics and art aside, the fight really seems to be about money. Renzi has long expressed anger than the Italian government pockets millions of dollars in admissions fees paid by people visiting Florence’s museums while refusing to help pay for the upkeep of the facilities. Renzi recently billed Berlusconi’s government for costs related to the cleaning of walls near “David,” which had been vandalized, reportedly by tourists waiting to see the sculpture.