Whetting our artistic palate much ahead of its opening in December 2015, the Louvre Abu Dhabi announced that it will be showing Leonardo Da Vinci’s enigmatic painting La Belle Ferronniere next year, making it the first time ever in the Middle East that a museum has displayed the maestro’s painting. Art historians disagree about the true identity of the enigmatic woman now known as La Belle Ferronniere, but her status as one of only a handful of undisputed portraits painted by Leonardo da Vinci – and as one of the great masterpieces of the High Renaissance – is beyond doubt.
Leonardo started very few paintings during his lifetime and completed even fewer and, although the number of solely painted works attributed to the master has changed throughout art history, what is certain is that La Belle Ferronniere is one of only five Leonardo paintings in the collection of the Musee du Louvre in Paris.
The portrait, in which a serious-looking young woman dressed in red velvet stares out at the viewer, will form part of the first batch of about 300 works sent on loan from more than a dozen cultural institutions in France to supplement the new permanent collection of Louvre Abu Dhabi when it opens in December next year.
The Leonardo loan, which will be with the Louvre Abu Dhabi for 12 months, involves several notable firsts. Not only is it the first loan to be announced by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), Agence France-Museums and the Musee du Louvre, but it will also be the first time that La Belle Ferronniere has left Europe and the first time a painting by Leonardo will be exhibited in the Middle East.
By the time La Belle Ferronniere arrives in Abu Dhabi it will have undergone a process of restoration. The portrait is set to appear at the 2015 Milan Expo before it arrives here, but it will only return to the city of its origin if the restoration process is completed in time. Mr Pomarede insists that the restoration team at the Louvre will not be rushed and that there is enough time for the Leonardo to reach Abu Dhabi on time and fully restored.
“We don’t know who the model in the painting is. We have several ideas, but it isn’t easy to be sure,” he explains. “La Belle Ferroniere is a modern title; it wasn’t used by Leonardo.”