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Polish government acquires masterpieces by Leonardo and Rembrandt—but at what price?

The state has secured more than 80,000 works belonging to the Czartoryski dynasty

by Gareth Harris  |  3 January 2017
Polish government acquires masterpieces by Leonardo and Rembrandt—but at what price?
Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine (around 1489-90)
The Polish government has paid 500 million Polish zloty ($118m) for the Czartoryski collection, which includes Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Lady with an Ermine (around 1489-90) and Rembrandt’s Landscape with the Good Samaritan (1638).

Last week (29 December), the Polish-Spanish aristocrat Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski, signed an agreement with Piotr Glinski, Poland’s deputy prime minister, transferring ownership of the major private art collection. The 86,000 paintings and objects, as well as 250,000 manuscripts, are thought to be worth more than $2bn in total.

However, the board of the Princes Czartoryski Foundation, which oversees the collection, resigned in protest at the sale. According to the New York Times, the trustees say the move could be illegal as the collection is “non-transferable and indivisible”. The foundation declined to comment further.

The Czartoryski collection was founded in 1802 by Princess Izabela Czartoryska. Many works from the collection are being housed at the National Museum in Krakow, southern Poland, while the Czartoryski Museum, also based in the city, is refurbished. Lady with an Ermine is on display at the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow.

“It was only a deposit and the Czartoryski foundation could sell them or replace them,” says a spokeswoman for the National Museum in Krakow. “Now the collection is owned by the Polish nation. This memorabilia [relating to] Polish kings and heroes cannot be sold, and we are able to raise money for the renovation of the national museum buildings, to show the collection as it should be,” she adds.

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