STITCH holes in a volume held by a Polish museum have added a new layer of evidence in establishing a disputed drawing as an important work by Leonardo da Vinci.
The evidence has just been unveiled by Martin Kemp, Emeritus
Professor of Art History at Oxford University and a leading
Leonardo scholar, who has already written a book, La Bella
Principessa, putting forward the arguments that would turn
what was previously thought to be a 19th century pastiche worth
about $20,000 into a Renaissance masterpiece valued at up to £100m
by one London gallery.
After ATG broke the story about the discovery of a possible
Leonardo in October 2009, D.R. Edward Wright, Emeritus Professor of
Art History at the University of South Florida, contacted its
owner, Paris-based collector Peter Silverman, to suggest a possible
link between the portrait and a de luxe copy of the
Sforziada a book eulogising Francesco Sforza (Duke of
Milan 1451-66), now in the National Library of Poland.
Wright, a specialist in Renaissance iconography, noted that the
Warsaw Sforziada and the portrait have near-identical
dimensions; that the Sforziada's illuminations by Gian
Petro Birago contain allegorical references to the 1496 marriage of
Bianca Sforza (identified by Kemp as the likely subject of La
Bella) to Galeazzo Sanseverino, Army Captain to the Duke of
Milan - Bianca's father, Ludovico Il Moro; and that Birago also
depicted the 'Scythian' costumes Leonardo designed for Sanseverino
for a jousting tournament in January 1491.
Subsequent analysis of the Warsaw Sforziada by Kemp and
Pascal Cotte, head of Scientific Research at Lumière Technology
(Paris) - who previously discovered a fingerprint matching that
identified as Leonardo's under the surface of La Bella -
has established that stitch holes in the volume correspond "very
closely" to those still visible to the left of the portrait. They
also identified from where in the volume the portrait folio was
removed and noted that its thickness matches the remaining pages in
Kemp and Wright believe La Bella was removed from the Warsaw
Sforziada when it was rebound in double-clasped, plain
brown leather some time between the late 17th and early 19th
However, proving that the page came from the Sforziada
is one thing, demonstrating that the image was contemporary with
the volume's creation is another, a point critics have already
picked up on and, doubtless, one which Kemp, Silverman and Cotte
will be keen to address.
Many of the world's leading Leonardo scholars have backed Kemp
in his findings so far, but there have been notable exceptions,
including London's National Gallery director Nicholas Penny, who
refused to let the work be included in an exhibition on Leonardo,
due to open there in November.
Interestingly, though, Kemp was one of the experts called in to
authenticate another work newly attributed to Leonardo,
Salvator Mundi, which will feature in the show.
Penny was appraised of the Sforziada findings in July;
both he and Camille Bambach, the specialist in Leonardo's drawings
at the Metropolitan Museum whom Penny also consulted over the
Salvator Mundi, were first invited by Silverman to view
La Bella in 2008, but have yet to do so.
However, in an apparent bid to defuse the conspiracy theories
flying around the art world, Dr Penny wrote to Silverman on
September 19 explaining that La Bella, as a work in
coloured chalks, had not been considered for the exhibition as "the
main focus is on the paintings of Leonardo from his first Milanese
By Simon Hewitt
Additional analysis and reporting by ATG staff