Raphael‘s “Woman with Unicorn” is one of 48 works from Rome’s Borghese Gallery on their way to Japan, where they will stay 6 months at the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto and the Metropolitan Musem of Tokyo (who you might think would have an English website).


The complete list of 48 works is not publicly available, but it includes the aforementioned Raphael, the famous Bernini bust of Scipione Borghese (which I don’t think has ever left its home), a Botticelli madonna and Caravaggio’s Young St. John the Baptist. The list involves about 20 works normally exhibited at the Borghese, and the rest are from storage.

If you went to the Borghese right now, would you be angry not to find those 20 works on display? That’s part of the argument against this move that has been put forth by the president and members of the International Council of Museums: moving major works for 6 months will harm international tourism towards Rome. The Borghese isn’t lying empty; it’s hosting the show “Caravaggio / Bacon” … in which the St. John might have found a good place.

The superintendant of Roman Museums, Rossella Vodret, counters that the Japanese are paying for restoration of a number of works AND, more importantly, that this Italia-Japan partnership is likely to bring an immediate return measurable in an increase in visits from wealthy Japanses tourists. This latter statement is based on a 25% increase in Japanese tourism to Italy after the controversial loan of Leonardo’s Annunciation from the Uffizi to Japan.

To this I’d add that making peace with Japanese tourists is a good idea after this summer’s debaucle of a Japanese tourist being hit with an 694 euro bill for a restaurant meal in Rome. (The restaurant has since been shut down, while an offer on the part of the mayor of Rome for a free “replacement” holiday in Italy to the victim was politely turned down as a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.)

But the big question is: should museums make major loans like this, gambling on FUTURE tourism, or keep their works at home to satisfy current tourists?

Source: Japan/Borghese loan reported in Corriere della Sera article 10/10/09 p. 45

For further reading on arttrav: Florentines react to moving Donatello’s bronze David to Milan for three weeks.

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