Da Vinci’s Been Dead for 500 Years. Who Gets to Profit from His Work?

In the late 15th century, when the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci completed “Vitruvian Man” — one of his most famous drawings, which depicts the proportions of the human body — he could not have predicted it would be reproduced onto cheap notebooks, coffee mugs, T-shirts, aprons, and even puzzles.

Centuries later, the Italian government and the German puzzle maker Ravensburger are battling over who has the right to reproduce “Vitruvian Man” and profit from it.

At the center of the dispute is Italy’s cultural heritage and landscape code, which was adopted in 2004 and allows cultural institutions, like museums, to request concession fees and payments for the commercial reproduction of cultural properties, like “Vitruvian Man.”

That code is at odds with European Union law, which states that works in the public domain (like “Vitruvian Man”) are not subject to copyright.

Credit…Ravensburger Puzzle

For more than a decade, Ravensburger sold a 1,000-piece puzzle with the image of the famed drawing. But in 2019, the Italian government and the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, where the famous work and other da Vinci pieces are on display, used the Italian code to demand Ravensburger stop selling the puzzle and pay a licensing fee.

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