Florence's mayor is defending his city's ownership of Michelangelo's marble masterpiece "David" after the Culture Ministry reportedly asserted that the treasure belongs to the central government in Rome.
The Renaissance-style feud broke out over the weekend with reports that Rome was laying claim to the sculpture, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy.
Michelangelo completed the 4.34-meter (14 foot)-high nude statue in Florence in 1504, and its home has been the city's Galleria dell'Accademia for more than 100 years.
Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi said the statue, along with other treasures, was ceded to the city of Florence by a decree in 1870 or 1871 when Rome became the capital of newly formed modern Italy.
"David is ours," Renzi told La Repubblica over the weekend in an interview broadcast on its website. "That's what the documents say."
Lawyers commissioned by the culture ministry in Rome, however, argue that Florence cannot own "David" because, over the centuries, the sculpture passed from sovereign state to sovereign state, starting with the Medici's rule.
Culture Minister Sandro Bondi called the debate "absurd and inopportune."
"Michelangelo's David is a symbol of cultural unity for Florence and for Italy," Bondi said in a statement Monday. "The problem of ownership of a piece of art, posed in propagandistic terms by Florence's mayor, is a petty one."
He said the issue could be resolved by joint management.
Renzi sees the government's move as a grab for money, including the reported euro8 million ($10 million) in annual ticket sales to view the masterpiece.
He complained in newspaper interviews that the government was quick to grab the revenue, but was not doing its part to help Florence pay for cleaning and maintenance of infrastructure sorely tried by tourists.
"This government is federalist when it comes to spending, and centralist when it is time to cash in," Renzi said.
Florence officials are also upset that Premier Silvio Berlusconi has not kept an electoral promise to give Florence more freedom in dealing with its historic and artistic treasures.