ROME — A longstanding dispute over who owns Michelangelo's statue "David" -- a lucrative tourist magnet -- has reopened between the Italian government and the city of Florence, reports said Monday.
Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi said he had "no doubt" that his city is the rightful owner of the sculpture and that Florence deserved to benefit from the eight million euros (10 million dollars) tourists pay each year to see it -- money that currently goes into national coffers.
"All the documents attest to it," the centre-left mayor told the ANSA news agency.
Renzi said the ownership of the Carrara marble masterpiece had been transferred to his city in 1871, when Florence lost its status as temporary capital of the newly unified Italy and it shifted to Rome.
But two government lawyers said they had concluded once again that the statue belongs to Rome.
Culture Minister Sandro Bondi of the centre-right People of Freedom party called the debate "absurd and untimely, because the 'David' is a symbol of cultural unity for Florence and for Italy."
"The problem of the ownership of the work of art, raised in propaganda-like terms, is a petty issue," he said in a statement. "I agree with those who propose that this issue be settled in the framework of joint management."
Renzi said he was also in favour of sharing management of the work, while raising the question of reproduction rights, noting that the sculpture is the "symbol of Florence".
Michelangelo completed the statue, which stands 4.34 metres (17 feet) tall, in 1504.
It stood for nearly four centuries outside Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, but was moved into the Accademmia in 1873.
Many regions and sectors have been hit hard by a two-year austerity package under which ministry budgets have been cut 10 percent and funding for local governments has been reduced.
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