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Da Vinci work crated for loan despite Italian protests

An Italian senator followed through Monday on his earlier promise to chain himself to the gates of Italy's famed Uffizi Gallery to protest the loan of an early Leonardo da Vinci work to Japan.

An Italian senator followed through Monday on his earlier promise to chain himself to the gates of Italy's famed Uffizi Gallery to protest the loan of an early Leonardo da Vinci work to Japan.

Senator Paolo Amato was joined in Florence by other Italian citizens who also object to the loan of da Vinci's The Annunciation — a 15th century work depicting the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary — for an exhibition at Tokyo's National Museum.

The protestors bore signs reading "Annunciation must stay in the Uffizi Museum" and "[Italian Culture Minister] Rutelli, leave Florence alone."

The Italian art world, politicians and the public have debated the loan for weeks, with some high-profile critics, including filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, condemning the culture ministry's decision.

Antonio Natali, the director of the Uffizi museum, was also against the loan. He vowed to stage a one-day strike by staying at home on Monday, as the painting was being prepared for travel.

Opponents have cited a host of reasons not to allow the loan, including fear of damage to the painting, the government's decision being madefor tourism rather than artistic purposes, and the masterpiece's importance to the Uffizi.

An Italian law enacted in 2004 forbids the loan of works deemed essential to a single museum.

"It's like sending the Mona Lisa to promote French cheeses," Amato said in a recent interview, referring to the iconic Leonardopainting held by France's Louvre.

As Amato and the protestors stood outside the museum, Uffizi staff bundled the approximately one-by-two-metre painting into a multi-layered travelling case.

The Annunciation is to be protected by three crates andlayers of shock absorbers. Sensors will monitor factors such as humidity and stress levelsand two Uffizi staffers will accompany the work to Tokyo.

Upon its arrival in the Japanese capital, the painting will have a police escort to Tokyo's National Museum and will be placed in a specially designed case to protect it from possible seismic activity.

The Annunciation will be displayed behind bulletproof glass from March 20 through June 17 as part of Italian Spring, a series of events designed to promote Italian culture, business ventures and products to Japan.

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