Page last updated at 18:05 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Heirs delay sale of historic papers in Italy tax tussle

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Rome

Skyline of Florence, Italy
Vasari documented the life of artists in centres of Italian culture like Florence

An auction of the papers of Giorgio Vasari, the man credited with founding European art history, has been called off at the last moment.

The papers, which include letters to and from Michelangelo, were due to be auctioned to pay off tax debts.

But lawyers for their owners, an aristocratic Italian family, stepped in at the last minute, claiming they were being sold too cheaply.

Giorgio Vasari, himself an acclaimed artist, lived in the 16th Century.

But it was in chronicling the lives of other Renaissance artists that he earned his reputation.

His most famous work - called Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects - contains letters to and from Michelangelo, local rulers and popes.

The papers were seized by Italy's tax authorities in lieu of unpaid debts by the Italian count who owned them.

Some reports say he tried to sell them for $200m (147m euros) to a Russian gas billionaire who then apparently died, though the count's family deny this.

The auction to sell the papers for a starting price of $3.5m (2.6m euros) has been stopped because the family says the starting price is too low.

A judge in Tuscany will decide if a higher price is more suitable.

One expert has said the archive is worth closer to $13m (9.57m euros).

The auction was stopped with just 15 minutes to spare, when lawyers for Vasari's heirs stepped in.

The tax authorities said they had to accept the auctioneers' decision to halt the sale.

Whatever the final price, and whoever buys them, there is one hitch - the papers are housed in Vasari's former home in Tuscany and cannot be moved, by order of Italy's culture ministry.

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