Art sleuths believe they′ve found a lost da Vinci masterpiece | Arts | DW | 14.10.2009
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Art sleuths believe they've found a lost da Vinci masterpiece

A drawing thought to be a 19th century German work of art has now been identified as a portrait by the Italian master Leonardo da Vinci. The value of the painting has now skyrocketed.

The newly identified da Vinci portrait

A lost work by Leonardo da Vinci turns up

An announcement in the art market weekly publication Antiques Trade Gazette has caused a major stir in the art world. Martin Kemp, an Emeritus Professor of Art at Oxford University, claims that a small chalk, pen and ink drawing on vellum is the work of the Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci.

And so far, most of the art world seems to agree with him.

After being missing for centuries, the portrait turned up at an auction at Christie's in New York on January 30, 1998. Listed as lot 402 in a sale of Old Master Drawings, the art work was described as "a Young Girl in Profile in Renaissance Dress." It was catalogued as “German, early 19th century.” Initial estimates put its value between $12,000 and $16,000.

Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci

Once the piece was attributed to da Vinci, its value jumped to $160 million

When the hammer finally came down, it had been sold to a New York art dealer named Kate Ganz for $19,000. She later sold it for about the same price to a collector named Peter Silverman in 2007.

According to the article in Antiques Trade Gazette, it was Ganz who suggested that "the portrait may have been made by a German artist studying in Italy ... based on paintings by Leonardo da Vinci."

The painting has now been re-valued at 100 million pounds ($160 million).

High-tech sleuthing

To determine its authenticity, the drawing was photographed using a multi-spectral camera developed by the Lumiere Technology company in Paris.

Then Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based forensic art expert, examined the images of the drawing and identified a fingerprint near the top left of the art work which matched that of the index or middle-finger of Leonardo da Vinci. The Lumiere process enables the pigments mixtures and pigments of each pixel to be identified without having to damage the drawing by taking a physical sample.

Professor Kemp originally code-named the painting La Bella Milanese, and then later re-named it to La Bella Principessa after he identified her, by what he called a process of elimination, as Bianca Sforza, the daughter of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan and his mistress Bernardina de Corradis.

The vellum of the painting was also subjected to a Carbon-14 analysis at the Institute for Particle Physics in Zurich which gave the painting a date in the range of 1452 to 1508.

Editor: Trinity Hartman

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