Da Vinci portrait pulls huge crowds in Berlin

AFP 31 October 2011

BERLIN — The Da Vinci masterpiece "Lady with an Ermine" has enjoyed huge success in Berlin, drawing 175,000 people in two months and causing queues of eight hours for its last day on display Monday.

The 15th century portrait of a young woman holding a white ermine, stolen by the Nazis from Poland, has been on display in Germany for the first time since World War II in an exhibition of Renaissance art at Berlin's Bode Museum.

Along with the Mona Lisa, the work is one of just four paintings of women by the famed Italian master.

The piece is set to be transferred to London for a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery that is due to open on November 9.

In Berlin, the first people began to queue up at 4:00 am for a glimpse of the work on its last day.

"The queue can last until midnight on some days," a museum employee told AFP. Queues of six hours are more usual and only 300 people are admitted at any one time.

Stolen by Hitler's troops during World War II, the work was later returned to Poland.

The culture ministry in Warsaw was initially hostile to the idea of the painting on wood leaving the country, fearing it could be damaged.

But a personal appeal by its owner, Polish aristocrat Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski, convinced the ministry to allow it to go on display in Madrid earlier this year, then Berlin from August 25 and now London.

The German press called the loan a gesture of "reconciliation" between Poland and Germany.
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