Press release

Bid to keep unique Pierino da Vinci sculpture in the country

The export of a unique bronze sculpture depicting a tragic scene from Dante’s Inferno has been put on hold.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This sculpture has long been thought to be the work of Michelangelo but now attributed to Leonardo da Vinci’s nephew Pierino.

Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, has placed a temporary export bar on the beautiful bronze relief of Ugolino imprisoned with his sons and visited by famine, by Pierino da Vinci (1529-1553). This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the bronze in the United Kingdom. 

The minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the bonze relief is of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for the study of Pierino da Vinci and that of Renaissance sculpture and patronage. The Committee awarded a starred rating to the bronze meaning that every possible effort should be made to raise enough money to keep it in the country.

This rare work by Leonardo da Vinci’s nephew, and one of the most talented sculptors of the first half of the sixteenth century, depicts a scene from Dante’s Inferno which recounts the story of how the Florentine Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his sons were imprisoned in a tower and left to starve by the Pisans. According to Dante, before dying Ugolino’s children begged him to eat their bodies and thus the Florentine is sometimes referred to as ‘The Cannibal Count’.

Georgio Vasari, who described the item in detail in his Life of Pierino, recounted that it was made circa 1549 for Luca Martini dell’Ala, who was then in Pisa in the service of Cosimo I de’Medici, Duke of Florence. Subsequently attributed to Michelangelo, the relief is  thought to have been brought to England by the painter Henry Trench (c. 1685-1726) before 1719, and sold to Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, entering the Devonshire collection in 1764 through his daughter’s inheritance and marriage to William Cavendish, 4th Earl of Devonshire. It has therefore formed part of two of Britain’s most important collections. It was not until recently when it was removed from a plinth that the Martini arms were found to be cast on the back of the bronze, thereby confirming its origin as described by Vasari.  Already a celebrated work, the relief provides a fresh insight into the nature of the production of sculpture in sixteenth-century Italy.

Simon Swynfen Jervis, Reviewing Committee member, said:

“This beautiful bronze, praised by Vasari and long attributed to Michelangelo, is a treasure of the utmost importance. The artist, Leonardo da Vinci’s gifted but short-lived nephew, Pierino; the patron, Luca Martini, a leading Florentine intellectual, whose arms, remarkably, are cast on its back; and the tragic subject all contribute to its rarity and significance”.

The decision on the export licence application for the relief will be deferred for a period ending on 13th September 2010 inclusive. This period may be extended until 13th June 2011 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the relief at the recommended fair market price of £10,000,000 (with no VAT payable) is expressed.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by Ed Vaizey.  Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to both parties by the sharing of tax advantages.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the bronze should contact the owner’s agent through:
The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Grosvenor House
14 Bennetts Hill
B2 5RS
Telephone 0121 345 7428

Notes to Editors

  1. For all media enquiries please contact Senior Media Relations Adviser, Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email: The image is available to download from DCMS’s Flickr photostream.

  2. For enquiries on the operation of, and casework arising from, the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact Sean BC Farran, RCEWA Secretary, on 0121 345 7428, e-mail:

  3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the recommended fair market price.

  4. The details of the bronze relief are:

Pierino da Vinci
A relief of Ugolino imprisoned with his sons and grandsons, visited by famine
c. 1548-1550
64.5 x 46 cm


Luca Martini (1507-61), Pisa, c.1549; probably Henry Trench, c. 1715-19; probably Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) and then by descent from his daughter Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Boyle (1731-1754; m. to William Cavendish, 4th Earl of Devonshire (1720-64) and then by decent.

Key literature:

William Adam, Gem of the Peak; or Matlock Bath and its Vicinity, A Tour from Derby to Matlock; Excursions to Chatsworth, Haddon […], London and Derby, 1843, pp. 139-140.
Marco Cianchi (ed.), Pierino da Vinci. Atti della giornata di studio. Vinci, Biblioteca Leonardiana, 26 maggio 1990, Florence, 1995, notably:

Charles Avery, ‘Pierino da Vinci’s ‘Lost’ Bronze Relief of ‘The Death by Starvation of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his Sons’ rediscovered at Chatsworth’, pp. 57-65, reprinted in Avery, Studies in Italian Sculpture, London, 2001, pp. 167-190.

James Fenton, Leonardo’s Nephew. Essays on Art and Artists, London, 1998, pp. 68-87.

Britta Kusch-Arnhold, Pierino da Vinci, Munster, 2008, esp. pp. 51-69; cat. 7 with list and analysis of versions in various materials, and related works, pp. 124-148.

Charles Noble and Alison Yarrington, ‘Like a Poet’s Dreems’. The redisplay of the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth’ in Apollo, November 2009, pp. 45-53.

Nicholas Penny, Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum. 1540 to the Present Day, Volume I: Italian, Oxford, 1992, cats 72 and 73, pp. 95-100.

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Published 16 June 2010