Friday, January 27, 2012

Is She a Leonardo?

Image of La Bella Principessa from National Geographic

I recently read an article in National Geographic Magazine (Feb. 2012) entitled "Lady With a Secret" about this beautiful chalk and ink on vellum drawing that might have been created by Leonardo da Vinci himself.  The piece surfaced in 1998 at a Christie's auction, and then ended up in a gallery.  It was purchased again nearly 10 years later by collector Peter Silverman, and the quest for authentication was on.  

How do you prove something is a Leonardo?  Fakes and "new" discoveries abound, so the art world is always skeptical of new claims.  It may never be "proven" that this is a work by Leonardo.  It is doubtful anyone will ever find detailed notes and sketches by Leonardo to accompany this work.  However,  like other things in science, if it cannot be disproved, it may be true.

A NOVA episode (aired January 25, 2012 on PBS) also explored the process of documenting this beautiful drawing.  Originally the drawing was thought to be a 19th century German work. But carbon dating shows the vellum is much older, and fits with Leonardo's life span.  Costuming experts, a trip to Poland to look at an old book, and high tech photography all play a role in making a case for "La Bella Principessa" being the work of Leonardo.  While the jury is still out, the article and program build a compelling argument for authenticity.  

Crowds visit Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Could Bianca Sforza (the believed subject of the drawing) someday draw the crowds of Mona Lisa? It is possible.  Her portrait could be worth $100 million.  While some skeptics believe the drawing does not look like a Leonardo, I could see similarities to his other portraits.  It is definitely a beautifully executed piece of art.  Leonardo's paintings of women are incredibly detailed and sensitively handled.

Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Today Mona Lisa hangs at the Louvre in Paris, glassed in and heavily protected, reflecting the paintings on the walls around her.  Nearby hangs another work by Leonardo...less noticed by the crowds, but I think it is even more beautiful.

Virgin of the Rocks, by Leonardo da Vinci - Louvre, Paris

Researchers are building a strong case for La Bella Principessa being a Leonardo drawing.  Although both  the magazine article and the NOVA episode on PBS show the skeptics' point of view, those who doubt it is authentic fail to make a strong case.  Time may build an acceptance that the work is by Leonardo.  Until then, it's up to you--if you get the chance, read the National Geographic article or watch Nova and decide for yourself.   Is she really a Leonardo?  I like to think she is.  But even if she isn't, this beautiful portrait is an amazing addition to Renaissance art.


  1. As stated, the evidence is compelling. Considering all of Leonardo`s genius and innovations, I think the arguements against its authenticity fail. And of course, certain experts find it difficult to admit they might be wrong. If da Vinci did not draw it, then who did? It was the right time, the right place, the right circumstances. I say he did.

  2. Great comment! I agree if it wasn't painted by Leonardo, then who else could have painted it? I would be interested to see if the skeptics could put forth an alternative artist.

  3. Leonardo's lost lass
    a Renaissance dream

    with steady gaze
    and eyes of sea green

    we want to believe
    this brilliance is his

    to see her up close
    what we wouldn't give