The Italian Almanac

Carla Bruni

Appealing to Carla

A Venice heritage association is appealing to French First Lady Carla Bruni to persuade the Louvre to return the most famous painting looted by Napoleon from the lagoon city. The Progetto Nordest (PNE) is the latest in a string of local bodies to ask France to restore Paolo Veronese's Wedding at Cana to a Palladian refectory on a lagoon island where it hung from 1563 until the French emperor sacked Venice in 1797.

"I feel I can appeal to your sensitivity to raise the Veronese issue with French public opinion once more," PNE culture chief Ettore Beggiato wrote to the Italian wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Beggiato said that "thanks to (Bruni's) authoritativeness" the Mannerist masterpiece "may find its way back to its natural home on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore". He recalled that Bruni, who is also a singer and arts patron, had come out in the past in favour of returning the giant canvas, one of the prize pieces in the Louvre's late-Renaissance collection.

The former supermodel also came to Venice in November to give the Cini Foundation, which is based on San Giorgio, the huge archive of her father Alberto Bruni Tedeschi, a tyre magnate, music buff and art collector who died in 1996.

The Louvre has turned a deaf ear to Venetian pleas for the Veronese, which is regarded as his greatest large-canvas achievement. But it has allowed a computer-graphic facsimile to be made which was hung in the Palladian Refectory of San Giorgio's old Benedictine monastery on September 11, 2007, the 210th anniversary of its looting by Napoleon's troops. Venetians are increasingly unhappy with having to make do with the clone, Beggiati claimed. "It has only increased bitterness and resentment towards the French Republic, which is Napoleon's heir, for better or worse," he told Bruni. photo: Bruni in Venice in November