The Hermitage, in St Petersburg, has promised the Benois Madonna (1478-80) to the Pinacoteca Civica art gallery in the small city of Fabriano, Marche, for the month of June, and the Umbrian National Gallery in Perugia for the month of July.

The painting’s visit to Fabriano will coincide with a meeting of Unesco’s ‘Creative Cities’ network which will take place in the city in June.

Also known as the Madonna and Child with Flowers, this early Leonardo masterpiece has only been loaned three times since its acquisition by the Hermitage under Tsar Nicholas II: to Paris (1935), Washington (DC), New York and Los Angeles (1979) and Florence (1984).

The painting depicts the infant Jesus absorbed by a sprig of flowers held out to him by his mother in a touchingly realistic moment.

The Benois Madonna gets its name from the Russian family who sold it to the Hermitage in 1914.

The Benois family is said to have purchased it from a troupe of Italian circus performers, though a more likely account says that they bought it at auction from the estate of art collector Alexei Korsakov, who is believed to have brought it to Russia from Italy in the 1790s.

The exhibition is one of hundreds of special events in Italy throughout the year to mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death on May 2, 1519.