Old Masters

Leonardo Da Vinci fake is the real thing, British art expert claims

Posted September 29th, 2011

Old Masters

A PAINTING that was once dismissed as a Leonardo Da Vinci forgery has been hailed as genuine by a British expert.

Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of art history at Oxford University, said that La Bella Principessa – once deemed to be a 19th century pastiche – is in fact a Da Vinci masterpiece, and he has traced the 15th century book from which he believes the portrait was ripped to prove his claim.

Proffesser Kemp tracked down a volume of eulogies about Ludovico Sforza, who was the Duke of Milan between 1489 and 1508 and Da Vinci’s patron, and discovered the book had a page missing.

Three stitch holes in the left hand margin where the page had been removed from the book corresponded “very closely” to the holes in La Bella Principessa, he said.

He is convinced that the work, which shows a profile portrait of a young woman in Renaissance costume, is of Bianca, Sforza’s illegitimate daughter.

In addition, the calf, kid or lambskin vellum sheet on which the portrait was drawn is exactly the same thickness as the other sheets in the book.

Professor Kemp said: “The authorship of the portrait by Leonardo is … powerfully supported. The portrait on vellum is now one of the works by Leonardo about which we know most in terms of its patronage, subject, date, original location, function and innovatory technique.”

The work sold for more than $20,000 in 1998 after the auctioneers Christie’s declared it a fake, painted by a German artist in the 1800s.

Canadian art collector Peter Silverman bought the painting in 2007 on a hunch it could be the real thing.

If Professor Kemp’s assertion that La Bella Principessa is genuine, it could be worth $100 million.

London’s National Gallery, which excluded La Bella Principessa from its Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition opening in November, dismissed Kemp’s claims.

“There is no general agreement that this is by Leonardo Da Vinci,” a spokeswoman said.

(Text from Newscore)