New evidence on '£100m Leonardo' drawing

September 29 2011

Image of New evidence on '£100m Leonardo' drawing

Picture: Guardian

Martin Kemp, a leading Leonardo scholar, has unearthed some compelling evidence about the controversial drawing 'La Bella Principessa'. It was sold as a 19th Century pastiche by Christie's in 1998 for £11,400, but some now say it is by Leonardo and worth £100m. 

The drawing is on vellum, and Kemp says he has now found the actual 15th Century volume from which it was taken (in Poland). From The Guardian:

[Kemp] has identified the drawing as a missing sheet from a 15th-century volume linked to Leonardo's great patron, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.

Last year, Kemp provisionally identified the sitter as Bianca, the duke's illegitimate daughter, who died a few months after her marriage at the age of 13. This identification was supported by the title page of the Sforziad, a volume celebrating the Sforzas; symbols in the book show that it was a wedding gift.

"Assertions that it is a forgery, a pastiche, or a copy of a lost Leonardo are all effectively eliminated," Kemp told the Guardian. Earlier this year, he embarked on what he describes as a "needle-in-a-haystack" search for a 15th-century volume with a missing sheet. A clue lay in the stitch-holes along the portrait's left-hand margin, suggesting it had been torn from a luxury-bound volume. But the chances of this volume surviving 500 years were remote, and the chances of it being found even remoter.

Against the odds, Kemp tracked the volume down, to Poland's national library in Warsaw; the stitch-holes are a perfect match for those on La Bella Principessa, a portrait in ink and coloured chalks on vellum. It is overwhelming evidence, Kemp says, that the portrait dates from the 15th century – and not the 19th century, as Christie's thought when it sold it in 1998 for £11,400 (it could fetch £100m as a Leonardo).

So, if true, this is indeed proof that the drawing dates from the 15th Century (which is fairly obvious just by looking at it), and puts to shame those who said it was a later fake. Whether it proves it is by Leonardo or not is another matter...

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