Poland lets da Vinci gem travel

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The "Lady with an Ermine", a rare painting of a woman by Leonardo da Vinci and Poland's greatest art treasure, was set to hit the road Wednesday after a year of heated debate by officials and experts.

Fearing it could be damaged, Poland's culture ministry was initially hostile to the idea of the masterpiece painted on wood leaving the country.

But Poland's deputy minister of culture, Piotr Zuchowski, said Wednesday that a personal appeal by its owner, Polish aristocrat Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski, convinced the ministry to allow it to go on display in Madrid, Berlin and London.

Spain's King Juan Carlos himself apparently asked for the da Vinci gem to travel to Spain.

"It's difficult to refuse the King of Spain, especially since he's my cousin," Czartoryski said, quoted by Poland's PAP news agency.

After agreeing to the Spanish request, Polish authorities also gave the nod to German and British appeals.

The 15th century painting portraying a young woman holding a white ermine -- otherwise known as a stoat or short-tailed weasel -- is part of the permanent collection of the Czartoryski Museum in the southern Polish city of Krakow.

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

Zuchowski said it would stay in Poland for a decade after it returns home in 2012.

Around 1800, the Czartoryski family acquired the 54x39 centimetre (21.25x15 inch) portrait painted by da Vinci between 1488 and 1490.

It is believed to depict Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of an Italian nobleman, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan and the son of one of da Vinci's patrons.

Stolen by the Nazis during World War II, the masterpiece was later returned to Poland.

© 2011 AFP

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