Was a Da Vinci Masterpiece ‘Overcleaned?’

Two Louvre officials have resigned, reportedly over just how to clean a 500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci work.

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DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini / Getty Images

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.

When it comes to cleaning great works of art, it seems less is more.

In an embarrassing development for the world-renowned Louvre gallery in Paris, two of France’s most respected art experts have resigned from its advisory committee for restoration. Their departure comes amid an argument over the cleaning of Leonardo da Vinci’s 500-year-old masterpiece, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, reports the Telegraph.

Ségolène Bergeon Langle and Jean-Pierre Cuzin have reportedly stepped down over their opposition to the use of certain solvents to clean the painting. Some suggest they have made it too bright while others maintain they are suitable, according to the Guardian. Bergeon Langle, a national authority on the art and the science of restoring paintings and former director of conservation for all of France’s national museums, confirmed her resignation in a statement. “I can confirm that I have resigned from the international consultative committee, but my reasons I am reserving for a meeting with the president-director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette,” it read.

It appears the spat has taken on an international dimension. Two members of the Louvre’s restoration committee, Larry Keith and Luke Syson, from the National Gallery in London, apparently advocate more rigorous cleaning than their counterparts in France.

A Louvre source told the Guardian: “The English were very pushing, saying they know Leonardo is extremely delicate but ‘we can move without any danger to the work.’ There was a row a year ago about solvents because they said they were safe and Bergeon Langle said they’re not safe.” Vincent Pomarède, the Louvre’s head of paintings, has defended the cleaning process. “Rarely has a restoration been as well prepared, discussed and effected, and never will it have benefited from such effective techniques,” he said.

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