Art history scholars announce attribution of a little-known drawing to Leonardo da Vinci, the first such authentication of his artwork in over 100 years. This 13" x 9" portrait is on vellum (animal skin) in chalk, pen and ink, and is mounted on oak. Art historians believe it is a portrait of Bianca Sforza, the daughter of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan (1452-1508), and his mistress, Bernardina de Corradis.
Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of History of Art, Oxford University, has coined the title "La Bella Principessa" for this
drawing, which he dates to around 1496. In that year, Bianca Sforza married one of Leonardo's patrons, Galeazzo Sanseverino. Dr. Kemp's belief is corroborated by use of a "multispectral" camera, which shows images of the layers of pigments applied in creating the work.
In the process of examining multispectral images, forensic art expert Peter Paul Biro discovered both a fingerprint and a palm print on the portrait. The former, located at the top left, is of the index or middle finger, and is "highly
comparable" to a print taken from Leonardo's St. Jerome. The palm print, found on Bianca's neck, is consistent with "Leonardo's use of his hands in creating texture and shading." Three minutes holes in the left
Fingerprint on "La Bella Principessa".
margin hint that the portrait was intended for the cover of a poetry book, perhaps in the sitter's honor.
The provenance of this supposed Leonardo masterpiece remains a mystery - little is known of this artwork before the 1990s, when it was sold at Christie's for $19,000. As an authenticated Leonardo drawing, the portrait is now worth an estimated $160 million -- and is held in a Swiss bank vault. It will be seen this March in a Gotheburg, Sweden show, "And There was Light: The Masters of the Renaissance Seen in a New Light".
UPDATE Summer 2010: Peter Paul Biro, who examined the fingerprint on this alleged Leonardo masterpiece, may be finding more than his fair share of fingerprints. Read the fascinating investigation of Biro in David Grann's New Yorker article of July, 2010.