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. 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.At this rate, the modest $19,000 investment will potentially yield a modest return of 842005%.
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. 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).
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.If the DaVinci drawing is to be sold, which in the New York art world it will most likely be, it will line up as the most expensive artwork sold, eclipsing the private $140 million 2006 sales of Jackson Pollock's Number 5, 1948 and Willem DeKooning's Woman III, which brough $137.5 million. Furthermore, of the 31 most expensive paintings, only 3 were "Old Master" paintings produced before 1876, as most of the Old Master works are currently held by museums and rarely come up for sale. Da Vinci's sketch may well dethrone the Modernists from the top of the economic world of art.
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.