apparently she is

Is she or isn’t she?

 

In 1998 an art dealer in Paris was flipping through the Christies catalogue when he came upon this young lady:

labella
“Head of a Young Girl in Profile to the Left in Renaissance Dress. German. Early 19th century. Pen, ink and chalk on vellum, mounted on oak board”

The venerable auction house had it listed as an 19th cent work from Germany but the art dealer had a different idea. Off he dashed to NYC to buy this little mystery but unfortunately he was outbid. The story could have ended there, but in an interesting twist of fate, this same art dealer was wandering through an UES art gallery ten years later when he bumped into her again. This time he bought her on the spot and with his pockets $22,000 lighter he flew back to Paris to get to know his young lady.

Friends and colleagues in the world of fine art agreed: “It looks Italian”….”Renaissance probably”…”the work of a master”. What artist capable of such great talent was working in Italy during the Renaissance?..Who could it be?……..

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A wild idea was taking form. The art dealer placed a call to Martin Kemp, an art historian at Oxford University and an authority on Leonardo daVinci. “Hey Martin, can you take a look at this little picture I found and tell me what you think?” In England, Prof. Kemp is intrigued by  the similarity to Leonardos work and agrees to investigate further.

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Confirmation of the date seemed to be in order. If the work was indeed created in the nineteenth century then the research need go no further. Time to turn to science for some answers. In Paris, our friend takes the drawing to art specialist Giammarco Cappuzzo for some handy carbon 14 dating. When the tests show that the vellum dates, not from the 19th cent as Christies thought, but from the late fifteenth and early 16th centuries, the investigation kicked into high gear. Infrared imaging was now called for, and a friend of Cappuzzo had, in a lab across town, an amazing camera that is able to take pictures of such clarity that every detail is revealed. Cappuzzo pops the young lady in the back of his scooter and takes off across Paris, weaving through traffic with what could very possibly be the find of the century secured in his little moped.

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The multi-spectral imaging allowed a peek between the layers of ink and chalk and showed some very interesting things.  There were corrections made to the drawing before it was finished, very similar to the way Leonardo worked. With the high resolution images they were able to examine the drawing in minute detail and saw a fingerprint left by the artist,  left handed sloping of the penmarks, and exquisite draftsmanship.  All hallmarks of da Vinci. And all present on this drawing.

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Perhaps most importantly, they found three little holes on the left side, evenly spaced as if bound in a book. An intriguing clue..

threeholes

In the meantime word has been traveling around the art community. An expert on Italian renaissance costume had a very interesting little piece of information: The young lady in the drawing is wearing her hair in a coazzone: a style made popular in Milan in the late 15th cent by the ladies of the ruling Sforza family.

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Ludivico Sforza was the duke of Milan from 1498-1500 and the patron of Leonardo da Vinci.  In fact, Ludovico commissioned The Last Supper.

It is all falling together…

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Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan 1489-1500

A Professor of art history in Florida sends an email to Professor Kemp “You know, Martin, you should pop on over to Warsaw and take a look at this old book they have that used to belong to the Sforzas”

sforziad

The parade of experts goes off to Poland where they find the Sforziada, an illuminated manuscript commemorating the marriage of little Bianca Sforza, illegitimate daughter of Ludovico, to Galeazzo Sanseverino one of Ludovicos generals. Bianca would have been the right age for the girl in the drawing and, lo and behold,..

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Prof Kemp holds a copy of Le Bella Principessa while studying the Sforziada in Warsaw

…..the drawing fit perfectly. The holes aligned with the binding, and the book even had a page missing, right where the portrait would have been placed. Suspicions were confirmed and hopes realized.  The world is now one Leonardo richer.

My understanding is C14dating + Sforza hairstyle + left-handed hatching(shading)+missing page from the Sforziada =

a long lost Leonardo!

It’s certainly possible,and I love a story with a happy ending, but all my years as an art historian (0) combined with all my years as a teensy bit of a cynic (many) leave me feeling that this would be a perfect forgery. For one thing, it has hardly any provenance. That puts up a big red flag for me. A work by Leonardo unknown for almost 500 years until it suddenly pops up in the possession of a little old lady in Switzerland? A little old lady who is now suing Christies for the misattribution, which would add verisimilitude to the story.

I hope it is a Leonardo.  The world needs another Leonardo more than it needs another cynic, so I am joining Team Kemp.

mystery-masterpiece-vi

19 thoughts on “apparently she is

  1. What a fabulous whodunit this is! Team Kemp, now with the enchantingly formidable Bebe, can add a little Chicago southpaw hatching to their forensics team…I have a pair of gloves just like Professor Kemp for spot-checking my lazybones maid.

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    1. I shall send along our CV to Prof Kemps team:
      gsl and bebe
      blogland
      career objective: international art detectives
      qualifications: gsl-charming raconteur and white glove owner
      bebe- common sense advocate and possessor of opinions

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    1. Thank you very much! The bottom image is a link to the PBS/Nat Geo program. I highly recommend it-much more interesting than my post. They have a fingerprint expert from Lausanne and an art forger in London-a whole cast of characters.
      Its on Netflix, also

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    1. Oh thank you BB!
      Sometimes when I see Antiques Roadshow I am left with the impression that every attic and yard sale is chock full of treasures just waiting to be picked up

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  2. Hello Bebe,

    What an intriguing take this is. We have been gripped from the first to the last word of this delicious account. We, possibly the last of the great romantics, have to believe that this is indeed a long lost Leonardo. The world does, as you say, need more. We are all in danger of sinking in a sea of mediocrity so a masterpiece hidden for decades and now brought to light is just the kind of inspiration we need to give us hope that living a life more extraordinary is a real possibility in these times.

    And, as for Team Kemp…….. Well, we cannot profess to have the white gloved dexterity of Darling GSL (what exactly does he do with his maid, we ask). Nor can we claim the common sense that you advocate, Darling Bebe. But, we can talk for England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Hungary about Art so that should come in handy somewhere. Do, please, put our names forward. We do not mind making the tea.

    And when, are we to know the answer to the mystery……..?

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    1. I must come clean right away and say that my post is a brief synopsis-with added dialogue-of a PBS program I stumbled upon recently. Only a miniscule amount or research on my end
      As much as I enjoy the titillation of a good mystery, I feel that the experts are obliged to solve this one for us definitively. Every great achievement elevates our human experience-is this another feather in our collective cap? Is this an example of human genius or perfidity?
      With all of your expertise in this arena gsl and I would be honored if you would lead our team of art detectives. Under your expert guidance we shall solve this little mystery for the world.
      I too had a passing curiosity about gsl’s maid. I wonder if she wears a short skirted uniform….

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      1. Darling Bebe,

        Thank you for your reply.

        No matter that the research came from elsewhere. It is through you that we are enlightened and that is what matters.

        Indeed, a greater mystery appears to be the matter of Darling GSL and his maid. As for the short skirt, well, he will be doing exceedingly well if he manages to get her in any form of uniform at all. So difficult to get servants since The War.

        We are so pleased to have found you and your blog. Where have you been all our blogging lives?

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  3. Darlings Jane and Lance, GSL’s idea of doing “exceedingly well” is getting a beguiling red-headed raconteuse out of uniform and into something (I should be very quick to add!) that is visually suggestive of her immense intellect and charm. As I am a boy who likes to dream, I would then place this enchantress among the leading lights of Budapest in a drawing room of Hattattian Splendor…with a vey respectful nod to the wonderful Timea.
    As I mentioned during her previous post, I have been badgering her for weeks to make her introductions to you as I knew you had the keen insight to take her full measure. Delightful and interesting as this little post is, it doesn’t begin to reveal her vast talents!

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    1. Darlings Bebe and GSL,

      Our disappearance from the delicious gossip column that these comments are becoming was entirely due to the fact that we had to have baths (not too posh to wash), attend the opening of an art exhibition, award a prize, eat a curry, answer correspondence, sleep, write a new blog post, catch up with the blog posts of our commentators, research into the Mitfords and Alconleigh and read your previous posts, Darling Bebe………but, now, we are arrived.

      Now, where were we.

      Lewis Carroll, yes, our Brighton rooms as we fondly refer to them are close to Lewes Crescent where LC lived whilst writing Alice in Wonderland.

      Darling GSL you are too kind about our Drawing Room but we love you for it. Indeed, nothing could cheer us more than to have you gracing our Empire sofa one day………or, perhaps, playing Alexander (that is the piano).

      Darling Bebe, your posts are intelligently delightful. The comments do not, in any way, match your writing which is beautifully measured and articulate. Our lives are richer for the connection with you and your world.

      We look forward to many, many happy returns!

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    1. Not as rewarding as time spent reading one of your comments dearest gsl, but an interesting program nonetheless.
      I was a bit curious as to what they hoped to accomplish with a fingerprint expert,- are Leonardos prints on file?-but it made for a great story

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      1. well Leonardo has now been cleared in the Lindbergh kidnapping…I imagine Christie’s crack team of Renaissance experts is putting out a few feelers…loved how they left off with Silverman politely declining an “offer” of $80 mil thereby setting his own market….I absolutely love the high-toned sleaze in fine art and antiques

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  4. Wow that is so intriguing and Bebe! you know how to spin a yarn, I was on tenderhooks (still wondering what the three holes meant?)What strikes me is how different looking she looks in that she looks like an actual person that you would remember and not modeleque and generic. How you read “Seven days in the art world” equally fascinating

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  5. I just needed to say how much I enjoyed this post in every way – topic, artist, and writing. I also followed this picture as it made big news in the UK a few years ago and I also did think slightly odd that there was this sleeper so to speak in the auction world. It did seem a reverse clue planted search but as you say the world needs another Leonardo and not a cynic!

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    1. Oh thank you Naomi! I didnt know of this picture at the time it was making news, it wold have been interesting to follow the story in real time. I am a creature of two faces on this: my skepticism is undeterred by my banner waving, and vice versa.
      I find it odd that Leonardo made the exact same corrections to the drawing (at the forehead and chin) that he made to other works. But a talented forger wouldnt make that mistake, so I suppose its not really a clue..oh Im not very good at my art detecting thus far!…..

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  6. FYI an Italian publisher (Scripta Maneant) is going to publish a faithful facsimile edition of both the Warsaw Sforziad and the portrait (La Bella Principessa, or Portrait of a Young Fiancée). Of course, the accompanying commentary volume is the text by Martin Kemp and Pascal Cotte! More info (in English) about the edition are on my website: http://www.facsimilefinder.com/facsimiles/the-warsaw-sforziad-la-bella-principessa-facsimile

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