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Did Leonardo da Vinci draw portrait that sold for just $21,000?

October 18, 2011 | 10:58 am

Portrait  said to be a lost work by Leonardo da VinciA portrait that sold at Christie's auction house for just $21,000 is thought by some scholars to be a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci. The portrait, which surfaced in 1998, appears to have come from a 500-year-old book titled "Sforziad."

That's according to British art historian Martin Kemp, who has made the da Vinci claim. Live Science reports:

The [portrait] appears to have come from a 500-year-old book containing the family history of the Duke of Milan. Art historian Martin Kemp, of the University of Oxford, believes the mystery [work], which appeared in 1998, is a portrait of the duke's daughter, created by da Vinci for her wedding book. ...

The portrait is made on vellum, a specially prepared skin normally used for writing and printing. No work by da Vinci has been found on vellum before, though it was frequently used in books. Researchers believe the portrait came from a book, because three stitch holes are visible on the portrait's left margin. ...

"The chance of identifying the vellum book it came from was pretty small, a needle in the haystack, one would say," Kemp told LiveScience. That was, until American art historian D.R. Edward Wright of the University of South Florida suggested that Kemp look at a set of books titled the "Sforziad."

Of the four copies of "Sfiorziad," one in Warsaw's National Library seemed to be missing this page, Kemp says, which was probably removed during a rebinding. Evidence that it comes from this book include the similarity of the page to the vellum of neighboring pages and the binding holes in the portrait -- and da Vinci was an artist in the duke's residence from 1481-1499.

Other scholars say there is not compelling evidence to attribute the chalk-and-ink portrait to da Vinci. He has no known works on vellum, and a Vienna gallery that examined the piece concluded that it was created in the 19th century.

More about the artwork appears in the revised edition of Martin Kemp's book "Leonardo," coming in November from Oxford University Press.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The portrait in question. Credit: LiveScience