Thursday, October 15, 2009

OK, Not a Black Artist, But an Amazing Story

It's the flip side to the multimillion-dollar counterfeit. The art world is abuzz with the recent discovery that a portrait thought to be the drawing of an unknown 19th century German artist is now being attributed to the Italian master Leonardo da Vinci. And the way the revelation was made is straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel: researchers traced the portrait to the artist using a 500-year-old fingerprint.

The 13-by-9-inch portrait, which has now been dubbed La Bella Principessa, is a delicate profile of a young aristocratic Milanese woman, drawn with pen, chalk and ink on an animal skin known as vellum. It was bought two years ago by an anonymous Swiss collector at the Ganz Gallery in New York for about $19,000. Experts now put the possible value of the artwork at upwards of $150 million. (See the top 10 most expensive auction items.)
The potential fingerprint wasn't a total surprise to everyone, though. Alessandro Vezzosi, a noted da Vinci scholar, stuck out his academic neck last year when he identified the portrait as one of the artist's in his 2008 book, Leonardo Infinito. He based his conclusion on artistic, stylistic and historic considerations. "There is some embarrassment out there," says Vezzosi, director of the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in the artist's hometown of Vinci, Italy. "Just looking at it, you know it isn't German."

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